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Trump’s Plan To Reform The Asylum System

On April 29, 2019, the President, or someone slightly more literate than he, issued a memo in response to the large number of people apprehended at the southern border this year. The memo directs the attorney general and the secretary of homeland security to propose regulations within 90 days to implement the memo’s policy changes.

There are three major changes proposed by the president that will meaningfully revise long-standing practices in asylum law and processing.

  • the regulations will institute a fee for asylum applications.

  • they will restrict the type of deportation defenses that asylum applicants may present; and,

  • these regulations will bar people who entered without inspection from receiving a work permit.

These proposed changes will restrict the due process rights of asylum seekers, while ensuring the continued chaos in processing of those arriving at the southern border. Currently, the U.S. asylum process conforms to international norms and treaties. All the changes proposed in the president’s memo are at odds with international refugee and asylum law.

Requiring a fee for asylum applicants contradicts international laws and creates a financial barrier for humanitarian protection. People fleeing violence and persecution are among the most vulnerable in the world. They often leave their homes on a moment’s notice and with little more than the clothes on their backs. Forcing them to pay a fee would, for most of them, be an insurmountable obstacle.

The proposed regulations would force asylum seekers into special limited types of removal proceedings, which handicap the asylum seeker more than other illegal entrants. In these special proceedings, the defenses and the ability of the asylum seeker to be released from detention on bond would be limited. Individuals who have been victims of serious crimes or trafficking, or children who are eligible for permanent residence due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect, would be barred from the protections specifically provided for them by Congress.

The proposed regulations would block many asylum seekers from obtaining employment authorization until their cases were approved. This would mean that the increasing number of asylum seekers currently stuck in the immigration court backlog would be unable to work and provide for themselves and their families while their case is pending adjudication.

Most people wait years for their cases to be decided. Under such circumstances, how are asylum seekers expected to financially support themselves and their families? The proposed regulations would place these victims of violence and persecution in the untenable position of choosing between working without authorization, on one hand, and starving their families on the other hand.

Asylum law is not broken. The asylum process is overwhelmed to be sure. Rather than attacking the asylum seekers or cutting off aid to the countries the refugees are fleeing, the U.S. government should exercise what is left of its international leadership to orchestrate a well ordered refugee system in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Mexican government.

Refugee camps are undesirable, but they provide shelter, safety and a supervised means of survival to refugees while their cases are adjudicated. We all deserve to have the matter resolved humanely and by someone more competent than the U.S. president. Place the refugee process in the hands of UNHR; reform the Immigration Court system; and address with urgency the violence and lawlessness in the northern triangle countries of Central America; the gangs are, after all, an American-made catastrophe.

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