Press Release



Honoring International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Piscataway Lands – On the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign for asylum rights again affirms the rights of our Indigenous partners, including the right to exist, self-determination, and recognition of their Indigenous identities. Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted in their lands ad territories by imposed development projects, climate change, and oppressive systems that persecute, criminalize, and kill Indigenous leaders and forcibly displace Indigenous communities. These conditions force Indigenous peoples to flee from their ancestral lands and to seek safety from persecution and violence in countries like the United States. Indigenous peoples like all refugees have the right to due process, including the right to resources in their Indigenous languages to ensure their ability to communicate, particularly when presenting asylum claims. We stand by calls from our Indigenous partners, such as the International Mayan League, for the Biden administration to work with Indigenous peoples, organizations, and political institutions to address existing flaws within the U.S. immigration system and respect the particular rights of Indigenous asylum seekers. On this day we remind the administration of their domestic and international human rights obligations to ensure a safe and dignified process when seeking asylum. The United States has endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and should use the Declaration as the bare minimum standard in developing policies to protect Indigenous peoples in migration.

“Since 2018, we have been demanding accountability and justice for Indigenous peoples before the U.S. government and the United Nations,” said Juanita Cabrera Lopez (Maya Mam), Executive Director of the International Mayan League. “Since May 2018, there have been at least five Maya children and one young Maya woman who died at the U.S.-Mexico border under U.S. government custody or were killed by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents. Today, per the Office of Refugee and Resettlement, 47% of children in their custody are from Guatemala; The White House Task Force has confirmed that 58% of impacted families are from Guatemala; and 46,210 Guatemalan adults and unaccompanied minors have been deported under Title 42. Guatemala is an Indigenous majority country therefore Indigenous peoples are disproportionately impacted by these policies. We continue to stress that the full scope of the grave human rights violations experienced by Indigenous Peoples is not understood or addressed because our Indigeneity is not recognized and we are Invisible. On this day and moving forward, recognition of our existence as Indigenous peoples, our rights, and our solutions are critical for any meaningful change for Indigenous peoples and families in migration.”

“Far too often Indigenous peoples forced to flee their lands who try to find refuge in the United States do not receive a fair opportunity to exercise the right to seek asylum,” said Licha Nyiendo, chief legal officer for Human Rights First. “We have seen from the experiences of our clients and in our research that the failure to provide appropriate translation services disparately impacts Indigenous peoples – making it impossible for some to explain to U.S. officials their fear of return and resulting in their illegal refoulement. The U.S. government’s continued use of the Title 42 policy to block and expel asylum seekers to danger without an opportunity to apply for asylum also disparately impacts Indigenous peoples who are fleeing countries that have been subjected to the overwhelming majority of expulsions. To begin to address the disparate treatment of Indigenous asylum seekers the U.S. government must consult with Indigenous peoples, recognize their Indigenous identities, and provide appropriate translation services in all immigration and asylum settings.”

“On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we recognize the disparate treatment that Indigenous peoples who migrate to the United States experience – including due to a lack of consistent resources and translation in their Indigenous languages when applying for asylum,” said Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “We call on the Biden administration to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as routinely consult with Indigenous peoples, organizations, and political bodies to ensure that Indigenous peoples seeking protection can do so in an equitable, dignified manner.”

“On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, we honor the rights and leadership of Indigenous peoples, including those seeking refuge,” said Kate Jastram, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. “Indigenous peoples are disparately impacted by the conditions that drive forced migration, including severe racial and ethnic discrimination, gender-based violence, political repression, and climate change. Indigenous people seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable to violence during their journeys to the U.S. southern border and suffer grave harm due to draconian U.S. and Mexico policies designed to impede their movement and block them from seeking safety. Those who reach the United States encounter profound barriers to due process, including a lack of interpretation and translation resources. We urge the U.S. government to listen to Indigenous leaders, and ensure that Indigenous individuals seeking asylum are provided the support they need to meaningfully present their claims.”

“We stand with Indigenous peoples not just today but every day,” said Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Latin America Working Group Co-director. “We call on the Biden Administration to consult with Indigenous organizations and Indigenous leaders in its immigration and foreign policymaking. We must address the egregious rights violations committed against Indigenous migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, and ensure access to culturally appropriate services for Indigenous migrants throughout immigration proceedings in the United States. Respecting Indigenous communities’ rights to their lands and livelihoods, to not be displaced by companies and governments from their homes and protecting their leaders as environmental defenders must also be a crucial part of the administration’s strategies to address the root causes of migration.”

“Establishing a compassionate asylum and refugee system in the United States matters for indigenous populations throughout the American hemisphere and the world. We must end Title 42 and the Remain in Mexico policies,” said Pablo DeJesús, Executive Director, Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice. “The majority of the world’s indigenous peoples reside on the planet’s remaining biodiversity, perhaps as much as eighty percent. That means they suffer a disproportionately high share of displacement due to climate crisis risks and conflict related to resource extraction. Too often they are forced to flee their homes, ancestral lands, in response to the increasing political violence associated with both risks. We need the Administration to respect the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and establish a refugee and asylum system that centers on dignity and service for all people fleeing danger. The right to migrate away from harm is a universal right, codified in human history, if not in law.”

“On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and everyday, we acknowledge we are on stolen land and honor the Indigenous cultures colonialism has attempted to invisibilize,” said Tasha Moro, Communications Director of the Justice Action Center. “Climate change and forced removal disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples globally often leading to forced migration. In turn, asylum seekers face barriers such as insufficient language translation, access to life-saving resources, and layered discrimination. Immigration justice must be rooted in a commitment to the freedom of Indigenous people worldwide and the right to seek safety in the face of government-sanctioned violence and displacement. We honor the leadership of Indigenous organizations working to directly improve the lives of migrants, protect the environment and the traditions that defend it.”

The Welcome with Dignity Campaign for asylum rights is composed of more than 100 national and regional organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: