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    06.29.18 Interim Dean Maryellen Fullerton Authors Op-ed in The Hill on Refugee Law at the Southern Border
    Maryellen Fullerton

    In an op-ed for The Hill, Interim Dean Maryellen Fullerton, a recognized expert on asylum and refugee law, calls on leaders of the United States to live up to the nation’s moral and legal obligations and stop violating the laws governing the treatment of individuals seeking asylum.

    Recalling how the international community came together in response to the refugee crisis created by persecution, war, and genocide following World War II, Fullerton explains the origin of the 1951 Refugee Treaty that established clear obligations on nations where refugees flee to seek safe haven. The treaty, created with visa barriers and other immigration control measures that prevented refugees from escaping Nazi Germany in mind, defines refugees as “people with a well-founded fear of persecution” and “requires nations to refrain from returning refugees to lands where their lives or freedom are threatened.”

    “More than 145 nations have also ratified the treaty, making it one of the most important human rights treaties in effect,” writes Fullerton. “With the shameful memory still alive of U.S. officials refusing to allow German refugees to disembark from the St. Louis because they lacked immigration visas, the United States also ratified the international refugee treaty and agreed to its provisions. Therefore, it is absolutely clear that international law protects people who enter the U.S. without papers, if they promptly go to Border Patrol officers and ask for asylum. Prosecuting individuals at the southern border for illegal entry violates the international laws that the United States expressly adopted and agree to uphold.”

    Fullerton notes that in prosecuting individuals or turning people away who want to apply for asylum—without giving them a hearing to see if they qualify for asylum—the government would not only be violating international refugee law, but also two U. S. statutes: the right to an asylum hearing and the obligation not to return people to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

    “Nations have the right to control their borders and to impose immigration measures,” Fullerton writes. “But both U. S. law and international law recognize that refugee situations involve great peril and require nations to allow human beings—however they crossed the border—to demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution and that their lives or freedom would be threatened if deported. The United States must live up to its moral and legal obligations. It must not forget the past nor stain the future.”

    Fullerton is an authoritative voice on asylum and refugee law with years of experience conducting research and working abroad. She has been a consultant for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and has been active in projects providing support to Refugee Law Clinics in Eastern Europe. Twice she has received Fulbright awards, and she has served as distinguished chair in law at the University of Trento in Italy. A prolific author, she has published two casebooks, Forced Migration: Law and Policy and Immigration and Citizenship Law: Process and Policy, which are used by more than 100 law schools and universities throughout the United States. She is also one of the founding editors of the Refugee Law Reader. 

    Read the op-ed here