The United States is a party to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and Article 1, paragraph 1 of that protocol incorporates Articles 2-34 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Article 31, paragraph 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention says:

Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

Arguably, criminal prosecution is such a "penalty" that states should not be able to impose on refugees (or people who claim to be refugees until their claim is denied) for illegal entry if they promptly turned themselves in and requested asylum after entering.

1 Answer 1


That convention is not uniform across signatory nations, and there are quite a number of declarations and reservations, but it turns out that the US only had a few fiscal modifications. Article 44(1) states that

Any Contracting State may denounce this Convention at any time by a notification addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations

but that has not been done by the US. So, Art. 31 would be applicable.

Perhaps of equal interest is US law which relates to that topic, namely The Refugee Act of 1980, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. 8 USC 1325 makes it a prosecutable offense if one

(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers

There appears to be no exception articulated for refugees in Title 8 (a rather large read), nor in The Refugee Act of 1980 which was mainly passed in connection with the 1967 Protocol. 8 USC 1158 specifies asylum procedures, and does not override sec. 1325. So it does seem that US law is at odds with the 1967 Protocol.

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