Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called on the Trump Administration to seek an agreement with Mexico to assist in accommodating a steady stream of migrants traveling through Mexico seeking asylum. The senators noted acknowledgements by Obama Administration officials that potential security threats are exploiting immigration vulnerabilities to enter the United States.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators urged the Trump Administration to adopt a safe third country agreement with Mexico similar to an existing agreement between the United States and Canada. Safe third country agreements require migrants seeking asylum to make their claim in the first country of arrival rather than passing through to another country. Such an agreement would serve American interests by helping to prevent expanded asylum claim backlogs and promoting national security by further disrupting migration of Special Interest Aliens, whom the Obama Administration noted are seeking entry into the United States.

“We know now that this caravan, as it stands currently, is not entirely comprised of Central American asylum seekers. As then-President Obama’s own Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, noted in an agency memorandum, titled Cross-Border Movement of Special Interest Aliens: ‘we must continually evaluate our border and port of entry security posture to ensure our resources are appropriately aligned to address trends in the migration of SIAs,’” the senators wrote.

“For over a decade now, United States sovereignty has been tested and too often disregarded. Under President Trump’s Administration, and due in large part to both of your efforts, the United States is finally in a position to secure our border and reinstitute law and order. We strongly urge you – on the eve of a new Mexican presidential administration – to set the tone for American sovereignty in the twenty-first century. Entering into a safe third country agreement with Mexico would send a message to our partners across Central America that they too must share the burden of unsanctioned mass migration.”

Grassley has previously raised concern about reports that migrants with ties to terrorism or from countries known to be a high risk for anti-American terrorism are joining smuggling rings in Central America in order to enter the United States via the Southern border.

Grassley’s and Lee’s letter to Nielsen and Pompeo follows:

October 23, 2018


The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Nielsen and Secretary Pompeo:

As over 7,000 Hondurans travel through Mexico toward the United States border, we urge you to execute a safe third country agreement with the Mexican government that requires asylum seekers to make their claims in their first country of arrival. We believe this would be an appropriate next step because such an agreement is rooted in precedent, addresses our national security concerns, and serves the best interests of American citizens.

A safe third country agreement is not unprecedented. In 2002, the United States entered into an agreement with Canada for cooperation in the examination of refugee status claims from nationals of third countries. The 2002 Safe Third Country Agreement with Canada required those seeking refugee status to make their claim in the first country of arrival. Given our shared land borders with both Canada and Mexico, and the decade-long surge of illegal immigration across our southern border, such an agreement is both appropriate and just. Further, there is international precedent. The Dublin Regulation[1] required asylum seekers arriving in the European Union to register their claims in the first country of arrival, and the EU-Turkey 2016 Agreement required Syrian migrants to file their claims in Turkey if they arrived in Greece via the Mediterranean Sea.[2] The United States, which is by far the most generous nation in the world, should also take appropriate steps to legally defend our own sovereignty.

A safe third country agreement with Mexico would also address national security concerns inherent in a large group of unidentified individuals moving unabated toward the United States. We know now that this caravan, as it stands currently, is not entirely comprised of Central American asylum seekers. As then-President Obama’s own Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, noted in an agency memorandum, titled Cross-Border Movement of Special Interest Aliens: “we must continually evaluate our border and port of entry security posture to ensure our resources are appropriately aligned to address trends in the migration of SIAs.”[3] As you know, Special Interest Aliens or “SIAs” are individuals who are considered national security threats to our homeland, who attempt – often successfully – to enter the interior of the United States illegally. We need only look back to a 2017 investigative report from POLITICO that showed Hezbollah and their affiliated networks have trafficked narcotics, weapons and persons from Venezuela and other parts of Latin America, to the United States.[4] Of particular concern is Guatemala’s recent announcement that it apprehended 100 ISIS terrorists in country, raising new security concerns about whether similar high risk individuals may have joined the caravan.[5] Due to the likelihood that such national security threats could mask themselves within this large caravan population, at a minimum, our federal government must prioritize the security of American citizens over anything else.

A safe third country agreement also permits the federal government to address overdue fixes we need here at home, within our immigration laws and border security apparatus. Our border and immigration enforcement authorities are long overdue for aggressive increases in resources, technology, and infrastructure support. Further, our country’s legal system that would be tasked with processing the thousands of migrants’ claims for asylum is already in a dire state, and likely cannot withstand the incoming pressure. According to the FY 2019 Proposed Refugee Admissions Report, the number of pending affirmative asylum cases stands at about 320,000 (approximately 492,000 individuals).[6] This is in addition to the immigration asylum backlog, which stands at about 348,000 individuals.[7] Accepting this current caravan would add thousands of cases to our existing backlog, and send a message to future populations that the United States has open borders, all funded off the backs of American taxpayers and legal immigrants.

For over a decade now, United States sovereignty has been tested and too often disregarded. Under President Trump’s Administration, and due in large part to both of your efforts, the United States is finally in a position to secure our border and reinstitute law and order. We strongly urge you – on the eve of a new Mexican presidential administration – to set the tone for American sovereignty in the twenty-first century. Entering into a safe third country agreement with Mexico would send a message to our partners across Central America that they too must share the burden of unsanctioned mass migration.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)
Chairman U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Mike S. Lee (R-Utah)
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary