The right to claim asylum is recognized by international law. To claim asylum in the U.S., one must show a well-founded fear of persecution in his home country, on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group.
An individual can make an asylum claim at a U.S. port of entry. A judge will then determine whether to accept the asylum claim.
However, reports indicate that some people attempting to claim asylum legally at the border are turned away repeatedly, told that the system is unable to accept new applications to be processed. While prohibiting someone from making an asylum appeal is illegal under international law, delaying a claim, which essentially denies that it be made, is a legal grey area.
People can also claim asylum by crossing the border illegally and then turning themselves in to officials. While the act of crossing the border in this case is illegal, the right to claim asylum is still valid, under international law.
Immigration advocates and human rights groups say that legitimate asylum applicants are forced to cross the border illegally in order to make their claims, and are then separated from their children for breaking the law.
The United Nations has condemned the practice of family separation as "a serious violation of the rights of the child," which "amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life."
The U.S. bishops have been vocally opposed to the new policy, as well as a recent move to remove gang violence and domestic abuse from the list of asylum claims that will be accepted as valid.
Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on migration, has stressed that "Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring."
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston stressed that the U.S. government "has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma."
Because families are "the foundational element of our society," they "must be able to stay together," he said. "While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety."