Asylum Intercepted: Seaborne Asylum-Seekers & U.S. Interdiction Policy

35 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2014

Date Written: 2014


I argue that two diverging trends are occurring simultaneously in regards to U.S. policy towards asylum-seekers. First, the U.S.’s stance towards asylum-seekers within the territorial U.S. has become increasingly humanitarian as the U.S. brings its domestic immigration law into closer alignment with the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol. Second, the U.S.’s policy response towards seaborne asylum-seekers has gradually become more restrictive. Since 1991, the U.S. has interdicted seaborne asylum-seekers to prevent them from accessing legal protection in the U.S. The Supreme Court has held that neither U.S. immigration law nor international law applies on the high seas, thereby removing from the U.S. its international legal obligation to protect asylum-seekers from refoulement, or return to a country where they might face persecution. The U.S. has thus adopted two opposing responses towards asylum-seekers depending on whether or not they are physically present in the U.S. In this paper, I analyze the rationale behind the U.S.’s diverging response towards asylum-seekers. I argue that the U.S. perceives and portrays seaborne asylum-seekers as a threat to national security and national identity, as well as a drain on social services and the economy. I provide a historical overview of the U.S.’s interdiction policy, focusing on the specific case study of Haitian seaborne asylum-seekers. I maintain that the U.S.’s interdiction policy seeks to balance the U.S.’s national security objectives with its humanitarian obligations. In closing, I question whether the U.S.’s divergent policy response towards onshore versus seaborne asylum-seekers is truly in alignment with international law, and draw parallels between the U.S.’s interdiction policy and the response of other states to the phenomenon of seaborne asylum-seekers.

Keywords: U.S., asylum, interdiction, seaborne asylum-seekers, refugee, Sale v Haitian Centers Council Inc

Suggested Citation

Mellinger, Hillary, Asylum Intercepted: Seaborne Asylum-Seekers & U.S. Interdiction Policy (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Hillary Mellinger (Contact Author)

George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics