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UK home secretary to warn of ‘unsustainable’ crisis as illegal migration booms under Biden

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration’s apparently unbothered approach to the global migration crisis is “unsustainable,” British Home Secretary Suella Braverman plans to argue in meetings with officials from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security this week.

“Illegal migration and the unprecedented mass movement of people across the globe is placing unsustainable pressures on America, the UK and Europe,” Braverman said in a statement before traveling to the US Monday evening.

“If we fail to meet these challenges, then our political institutions risk losing their democratic legitimacy,” she added.

Braverman plans to argue that the US and its European allies should tighten their definitions of refugees allowed to seek safe harbor.

International approach

During her three-day trip, Braverman will meet with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland to discuss ways to halt the flow of migrants illegally entering both the UK and the US and tackle organized immigration crime, the British Home Office said in a statement.

Britain's Home Secretary Suella Braverman

Braverman — herself the daughter of Indian immigrants to the UK — also plans to “present a blueprint for how other countries can combat this crisis,” in a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where she will call for international changes to whom the Western world treats as legitimate asylum-seekers.

“Seeking asylum and seeking better economic prospects are not the same thing. Seeking refuge in the first safe country you reach or shopping around for your preferred destination are not the same thing,” she plans to say, according to excerpts of her prepared remarks. “Being trafficked … and being smuggled – i.e. asking someone to sneak you into a country – are not the same thing.”

Braverman believes the global asylum framework – rooted in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention established to help resettle people fleeing the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust – “enables the merging of these categories, creat[ing] huge incentives for illegal migration.”

A migrant tries to pass under concertina wire after he crossed the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the United States
James Keivom

“It was an incredible achievement of its age. But more than 70 years on, we now live in a completely different time,” she plans to say.

Citing analysis from the UK’s Centre for Policy Studies, she is expected to say the UN convention “now confers the notional right to move to another country upon at least 780 million people.”

“It is therefore incumbent upon politicians and thought leaders to ask whether the refugee convention, and the way it has come to be interpreted through our courts, is fit for our modern age, or whether it is in need of reform?” she plans to say.

A mother from Honduras crawled through concertina wire with her three children after crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico
James Keivom

Reform “refugee”

Today, the UN policy defines the term “refugee” as one who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” cannot safely reside in their home country.

But Braverman will argue that “we have seen in practice an interpretive shift away from ‘persecution,’ in favour of something more akin to a definition of “discrimination”.

“I think most members of the public would recognise those fleeing a real risk of death, torture, oppression or violence, as in need of protection,” she plans to say. “… But we will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect, simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin, is sufficient to qualify for protection.”

Migrants cross the Rio Grande river from Mexico on September 25, 2023.
James Keivom

Still, she believes there is a difference between “discrimination” and “persecution” – and those who suffer from the latter should rightly be offered “sanctuary.”

Braverman will also advocate for the Western world to push refugees seeking asylum to first apply for safe harbor in the first nations they cross through.

“The status quo, where people are able to travel through multiple safe countries, and even reside in safe countries for years, while they pick their preferred destination to claim asylum, is absurd and unsustainable,” she plans to say.

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande river from Mexico into the United States are transported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers by boat for processing
James Keivom

While the Biden administration has encouraged immigrants seeking asylum to register in the first country they pass through, enforcement has been spotty as illegal border crossings climb.

“The refugee convention makes clear that [refugee status] it is intended to apply to individuals ‘coming directly from a territory where their life was threatened,'” Braverman plans to say. “The UK along with many others, including America, interpret this to mean that people should seek refuge and claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach … but NGOs and others, including the UN Refugee Agency, contest this.”

Booming illegal immigration

Braverman’s visit comes as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has prioritized “stopping the boats” – the arrival of migrants in small vessels from mainland Europe.

Suella Braverman called the Biden administration's response to the global migration crisis "unsustainable."

Braverman will note that, like many migrants at the southern US border, the “vast majority” of those asylum seekers “have passed through multiple safe countries, and in some instances have resided in safe countries for several years.”

“In this sense, there is an argument that they should cease to be treated as refugees when considering the legitimacy of their onward movement,” she plans to say.

London’s work on the issue is in sharp contrast with the Biden administration, which has shown a lack of willingness to tackle the crisis as illegal immigration numbers have continued to boom each year since the president took office in 2021.

Though White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday said Biden has “imposed consequences for those who do not have the legal basis to remain,” deporting more than 250,000 migrants from the US since May, new DHS data released Friday shows the problem continues to grow.

With a month left to go in fiscal year 2023, there had been more than 2.86 million Border Patrol encounters with immigrants attempting to enter the US illegally – up from 2.77 million counted during the entirety of FY 2022, according to the DHS report.

With numbers on the rise, Jean-Pierre on Friday called US immigration policies “a broken system” – but blamed the Trump administration for “gutt[ing] the immigration system for four years” and the GOP for “trying to undermine getting border security.”

“We would love to do this in a bipartisan way, but we’re not seeing that,” Jean-Pierre said. “What we’re seeing from House Republicans is wanting to defund DHS.”