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Interpreting International and Domestic Law Concerning Refugees: The U.S. Government vs. the Sanctuary Movement

Suzanne L. Fiederlein


In order to assess the relative merits of these two contrasting views about U.S. obligations under international and domestic law concerning refugees, this article first examines briefly the relevant international law (the 1951 U.N. Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, "Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War") and the U.S. 1980 Refugee Act. Next it reviews the policy of the U.S. government concerning Central Americans who have come to the United States since 1980 and critiques U.S. policy based on the views of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the lawyers for the defense in the Jack Elder case, the General Accounting Office (GAO) and other recent research on Mexican and United States refugee policy. The article then assesses recent developments concerning Central American asylum applicants in southern Texas and the significance of court cases related to their treatment by the INS. Finally, it concludes with a look at some policy options available to the United States government that would bring its treatment of Central American migrants more in line with international and domestic legal expectations.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229