As Saudi Arabia considers killing a women's rights activist, the United States should offer her asylum

By On September 02, 2018

As Saudi Arabia considers killing a women's rights activist, the United States should offer her asylum

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Amid the controversies that have erupted over our southern border, it can be easy to forget why the United States has long maintained a policy of granting asylum to those who flee persecution abroad.

Put simply, we offer asylum because doing so expressly advances American interests. It may not be readily apparent , but by taking the small step of offering safe harbor to those who are persecuted, the United States undercuts the big lie that oppressive regimes depend on. And that lie often takes many forms, including that no one cares about the plight of one dissident, that human freedom isn't a universal human desire, or that individual liberty isn't practical in any case.

Exposing the falsehoods of those lies forces regimes to be more accountable to their own people, which over time serves not only the basic tenets of humanity, but also serves American security and economic interests. As the free world expands, the U.S. is both safer and more prosperous.

We were reminded of all of this recently upon seeing a case developing in Saudi Arabia. Officials in the Sunni-dominated kingdom arrested Shiite rights activist Israa al-Ghomgham in 2015 for crimes tied to her nonviolent political activism. She has since been convicted of & quot;incitement to protest," providing "moral comfort" to rioters and other similar offenses. She's remained locked up ever since.

In recent weeks, prosecutors recommended to a special court that she be put to death.

As Saudi Arabia's most important ally, the United States should condemn the sentence, which will be heard on appeal in October. And as part of that pressure, the U.S. should make it clear that it will extend asylum to Ghomgham if she requests it.

So far she has not, but as we noted above, simply making a public statement to the world that the United States cares about persecution is itself a powerful force that pushes against human rights abuses.

Making such a statement now is particularly important because the asylum program has been both under threat and under pressure at home. The current political environment i s eroding support for the program, and the swelling number of applicants has created a massive backlog of more than 300,000 cases. These two forces have the potential to swamp a program that needs resources rather than criticism.

Truth be told, the U.S. rejects most asylum requests because the criteria are necessarily strict. So in 2016, the last year for which full statistics are available, fewer than 12,000 requests for asylum from those seeking to enter the country were granted, the second-fewest since 1994. Most were from China, El Salvador and Honduras. Forty-seven were from Saudi Arabia.

But it's worth remembering that it is legal to petition for asylum for a reason, and the people granted asylum are among the country's legal immigrants. It's also worth remembering that each time the United States extends the promise of asylum, it strengthens American values at home and abroad.

About asylum

* Foreign nationals who've fled their ho melands can apply for asylum in the U.S. by arriving at our border or a U.S. embassy. Or they can seek asylum from within the U.S., as a way to stop their deportation.
* In 2016, those seeking to enter the U.S. who were given asylum totaled just under 12,000, down sharply from the year before. Counting immediate family members, the decisions allowed 80,000 new arrivals to enter or remain in the country.
* Of those granted asylum, only 500 settled in Texas, compared with more than 5,000 in California.
* A person granted asylum can work in the U.S. and travel abroad. After one year, he or she can apply for permanent legal residence. After four years, green card holders can apply for U.S. citizenship.

What's your view?

Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.


Source: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia

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