McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, has filed legislation to allow migrants to apply for U.S. asylum in their own countries, which he tells Border Report would prevent so many from heading north.
If passed by Congress and approved by President Joe Biden, the Safe Zones Act of 2022, would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow asylum-seekers to request asylum from special areas deemed “safe” in other countries, including Mexico and Guatemala, according to the text of the bill obtained by Border Report.
Currently, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a migrant “must be physically present in the United States” or at a port of entry, or entering the United States at the border in order to claim U.S. asylum. Embassies and consulates in other lands currently are not included as places where migrants can claim asylum.
But Gonzalez says he wants to change that to deter migrants from deciding to make the dangerous — and deadly — trek north and end up in places like South Texas where he lives.
“Unfortunately, U.S. embassies and consulates cannot process requests for this form of protection. That’s because, under U.S. law, asylum-seekers can apply only if they are physically present in the United States (or at least at a U.S. border or other point of entry.) Our bill does create that ability. Additionally, our bill will create the facilities and spaces intended to take in, shelter, and efficiently process individuals seeking asylum — in a space that we can assure will be safe,” Gonzalez told Border Report Thursday.
His bill would put $40 million for each fiscal year from 2023 to 2033 toward creating the “safe zones.”
Ending the root causes of migration has long been the goal of Democrats, and Republicans.
Migrant encounters along the Southwest border have already topped 2 million this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30 — which is far more than all of Fiscal Year 2021.
Under the proposed bill, the U.S. Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, would designate “safe zones” outside the United States to include at least three “along the United States-Mexico border; and 1 safe zone in Guatemala.”
But how U.S. officials would garner the authority to deem land in another country as a “safe zone” is not explained in the nine-page bill.
The bill also calls for credible fear interviews to be given to asylum-seekers who apply for U.S. asylum in these so-called safe zones.
However, the current immigration procedure dictates that credible fear interviews are only given to asylum-seekers who are placed by DHS officials in expedited removal proceedings and who request an interview. Migrants are placed in expedited removal proceedings once they cross into the United States or attempt to cross at a port of entry without proper documentation.
According to industry analysts, the proposed legislation does not address how migrants who have not attempted to cross into United States would get credible fear interviews.
As it’s currently written, the bill also proposes:
- Hiring 20 immigration judges to adjudicate hearings for asylum-seekers who claim U.S. asylum from foreign lands.
- All asylum-seekers must present a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter a safe zone.
- Application fees will be collected for asylum filings, an “amount necessary to deter frivolous applications.”
Gonzalez just filed the measure this week, and Washington insiders note that this is just the first draft. They expect that if it gains momentum in Congress, then these questions and wording would likely be answered and changed to more suit current immigration procedures.