Congress Should Reject the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” | The Center for Victims of Torture

Congress Should Reject the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act”

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Andrea Cárcamo-Cavazos is CVT senior policy counsel

Later today, Congress will vote on a bill that fleshes out the proposal President Trump outlined several days ago to end the partial government shutdown. While we urge all elected officials—Republican, Democrat and Independent alike—to work together to reopen the government as quickly as possible, the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” is not the answer. Among other concerns, the bill would further roll back protections for asylum seekers, especially Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran youth and including torture survivors. Congress should reject it.

Here are some of the ways in which the bill negatively impacts asylum seekers, and why lawmakers should vote “no”:

The “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” would limit the ability of children from Central America to seek and obtain asylum

First, the bill would ban Central American children from applying for asylum at the border, or otherwise once inside the United States.

Second, it would subject a considerably large portion of those children to expedited removal, i.e., deportation without judicial review. In other words, even if Central American children would qualify for a different kind of immigration relief (other than asylum)—which is not uncommon in light of protections afforded by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act—they would be denied the opportunity to make their case. Instead, they would be returned home and at risk of retaliation by their persecutor for trying to escape.

Third, the bill would create an inadequate and dangerous “substitute” for asylum-seeking children from Central America. Under the proposed program:

  • Children would only be allowed to apply for asylum at a designated processing center outside the United States. But those centers need not be established for up to 240 days, whereas the asylum ban described above would be implemented immediately. For some children, those eight months without any prospect of securing protection in the U.S. could well be the difference between life and death.
  • The number of children who could be granted asylum is limited by an arbitrary quota. In other words, even if a child meets all of the requirements for asylum, her application wouldn’t be considered if 50,000 others have already applied, and would be denied if 15,000 others have already been granted.
  • Only those children who have a parent or guardian already in the United States, and for whom the Secretary of Homeland Security determines resettlement would be in the U.S. “national interest,” would qualify. These requirements would make it significantly more difficult to obtain asylum and would prejudice the most vulnerable children.
  • Children would have to pay to apply. Asylum seekers—children especially—are an extremely vulnerable population, replete with torture and trauma survivors. Charging these children a fee for a chance at safe haven, knowing full well that many (the most vulnerable in particular) cannot afford it, is simply abominable.

The “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act” would amend the asylum process more generally to impose additional barriers to relief

The definition of a “frivolous application” would be greatly expanded to disqualify individuals with otherwise valid asylum claims. Under the bill, an application could be considered “frivolous” just because it was filed after the one-year deadline, or if the applicant withdraws her application in favor of pursuing a different type of relief (for which she may have first become eligible after filing for asylum).  The former is particularly egregious in the case of torture survivors, many of whom suffer debilitating effects of their past abuse absent rehabilitative care, which for nearly everyone takes more than one year to find, access and complete.  

An application could also be considered “frivolous” if it is deemed to be “wholly unfounded in credibility even if not deliberately fabricated.” Traumatic memories are often distorted, so survivors may retrieve their memories as fragments, instead of in a linear fashion. Since torturers often shame their victims, they may have difficulty making eye contact, even after the torture is over, and are often unable to recount the most humiliating aspects of their torture. These changes in behavior and memory might be interpreted incorrectly as someone who is lying or lacking credibility. 


The Center for Victims of Torture owes a duty to the survivors it serves. Reopening the government at the expense of current U.S. legal obligations, longstanding American values, and the well-being of some of the world’s most vulnerable people is no solution at all. Congress should vote no on the “End the Shutdown and Secure the Border Act.”



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