Pelosi: If Asylum-Seekers Illegally Cross Border into US, ‘That’s Okay Too’

Patrick Goodenough | January 31, 2019 | 4:30am EST
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses the presidents conference of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities on Capitol Hill on January 30, 2019. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

( – Foreign nationals who enter the United States – even crossing the border unlawfully between ports of entry – have the right to seek asylum, “under international law and any sense of decency,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday.

Addressing leaders in Christian higher education on Capitol Hill, Pelosi said the U.S. is doing the “minimum” when it comes to helping people seeking refugee status and claiming a credible fear of persecution in their countries of origin.

When foreign nationals seek refugee status claiming a well-founded fear of persecution, “it is an obligation of our country to be responsive to that,” she told the annual presidents conference of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). “Other countries are, and we do a minimum. And it’s just not right.”

Pelosi said the Democratic leadership has tried to convey to the Trump administration “that these people do have a right under international law and any sense of decency to seek refuge in our country.”

She conceded that the U.S. has “a responsibility to question whether it is a well-founded fear of persecution,” but added that “it isn't against the law for them to come into America, to have that test made.”

“A large number of the people come to the ports of entry, overwhelmingly,” she continued. “But if they were to cross the border in another place because they are fleeing danger, that’s okay too. And then they are subjected to the test of whether they meet that [credible-fear] standard.”

Last November President Trump issued a proclamation, and the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security promulgated a regulation, seeking to bar foreign nationals from seeking asylum in the U.S. if they entered its territory other than through legal ports of entry.

“The entry of large numbers of aliens into the United States unlawfully between ports of entry on the southern border is contrary to the national interest, and our law has long recognized that aliens who seek to lawfully enter the United States must do so at ports of entry,” the proclamation said.

“Unlawful entry puts lives of both law enforcement and aliens at risk. By contrast, entry at ports of entry at the southern border allows for orderly processing, which enables the efficient deployment of law enforcement resources across our vast southern border.”

Trump said that under the newly-promulgated regulation, those who enter the U.S. through the southern border illegally “will be ineligible to be granted asylum” – although they may “still seek other forms of protection from persecution or torture.”

Critics said that proclamation and rule violated international treaty commitments, since the 1951 Refugee Convention calls on contracting countries not to penalize asylum-seekers on the basis of their illegal entry or presence.

The convention does, however (in article 31), set down conditions, stating that such individuals should not be penalized if they have come “directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened,” and “provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”

The convention cornerstone is the principle of “non-refoulement” (article 33), under which an asylum-seeker should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to life or freedom.

Elsewhere in her remarks to the CCCU, Pelosi pointed to negotiations underway to find a bipartisan agreement on migration.

She spoke of the need for “sizable funding” to provide food, clothing and medical care for asylum-seekers; for additional judges to speed up the processing of immigration cases; and to help “alleviate” some of the conditions in countries of origin that prompt people to flee and seek asylum in the U.S.

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