As the United States enacts numerous policies that critics say restrict access to asylum, rights groups have expressed concern that such policies could have especially severe impacts on Indigenous migrants.
While narrowing asylum pathways has thrown life into flux for many of those seeking refuge in the US, Indigenous people say that the obstacles they face – from language barriers to discrimination and violence – have gone largely unrecognised in conversations about immigration.
“We don’t migrate for a good life. We’re forced to leave. Parents send their children on this journey to save their lives,” said Geronimo Ramirez, a Maya-Ixil community organiser who lives in the US and works with the International Mayan League, a Maya-led human rights organisation.
“But we have been invisible. In immigration statistics, we’re characterised as Latino or Hispanic. Our identity has been assassinated.”
Indigenous advocacy organisations say the demand for asylum will only become more urgent, as their communities face displacement from climate change and violence from groups who target opposition to industrial projects on ancestral land.
Rolling back asylum
Earlier this year, the administration of US President Joe Biden announced a series of policies designed to discourage migrants and asylum seekers from crossing the country’s southern border irregularly.
One would render most of those arriving at the border ineligible for asylum, by requiring that they first apply for protection in the countries they passed through before reaching the US.
Immigration rights groups have slammed the policy as a “transit ban” and compared it to a similar “safe third country” rule implemented under former President Donald Trump.