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Trump's Proposed Changes Would Effectively Abolish Asylum

Activists from BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Activists from BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This year is the 40th anniversary of U.S. asylum law. To celebrate, the Trump administration wants to obliterate it — and some of my clients will likely die as a result.

Since Donald Trump took office, successive attorneys’ general and officials in the White House have been intent — and unrelenting — in their drive to narrow asylum protections for some of the most vulnerable, including children, LGBTQ immigrants and survivors of domestic violence.

But the latest round of proposed regulatory changes announced recently by the Department of Justice, goes much further — eliminating asylum for all but very few. Today, immigrants have once again become a political scapegoat, putting thousands of noncitizens in danger.

Consider the following three clients, all of whom were recently granted asylum. If the proposed rules go into effect, asylum seekers just like these people will be denied asylum, removed to their home countries, to face the persecution and harm from which they fled:

“John,” a young, gay man from Ghana was beaten and his boyfriend was murdered because of their sexual orientation. Under the proposed rules, he would be denied asylum because he was undocumented in the United States, prior to filing for asylum.

“Sofia,” originally from Russia, was sexually assaulted and beaten multiple times due to her religion and race. Under the proposed rules, she would be denied asylum because she worked in the United States without authorization.

“Ana” left her home in Brazil. Her husband tried to kill her on multiple occasions, put a gun to her head, defied multiple restraining orders and murdered her new boyfriend in front of their 7-year-old son. Under the proposed rules, she would be denied asylum because her claim is based on her gender.

In this Sept. 17, 2019, file photo, migrants who are applying for asylum in the United States go through a processing area at a new tent courtroom at the Migration Protection Protocols Immigration Hearing Facility in Laredo, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
In this Sept. 17, 2019, file photo, migrants who are applying for asylum in the United States go through a processing area at a new tent courtroom at the Migration Protection Protocols Immigration Hearing Facility in Laredo, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

These are just a few of the noncitizens whose rights will be denied based on sweeping changes in the proposed 161-page proposed rule, published in the Federal Register on June 15. Other changes include the erosion of confidentiality and due process for asylum seekers — important protections in an already fraught system.

Another provision would bar any asylum seeker who spends 14 days in any country en route to the United States. This is a particularly insidious amendment, as many asylum seekers travel for months over land, in their journey to safety.

Following World War II, President Truman issued an executive order admitting 40,000 refugees; most of this group came primarily from more than 60 million Europeans who had been driven from their homes during the war. Subsequent legislation brought in several more groups of refugees fleeing persecution. But it wasn’t until 1980, that asylum law was codified, with the Refugee Act, a watershed piece of legislation designed to protect foreign nationals fleeing violence and “rooted in principles of humanitarianism and objectivity.”

... humanitarianism and objectivity have been lost and these proposed regulatory changes serve as only the latest assault on the fundamental right of noncitizens to seek asylum on our shores.

Today, as President Trump continues pursuing his partisan anti-immigrant agenda, humanitarianism and objectivity have been lost and these proposed regulatory changes serve as only the latest assault on the fundamental right of noncitizens to seek asylum on our shores.

For those of us who care about asylum and the rule of law, there are avenues of advocacy. We can speak up. Proposed regulations, like this one, require a 30-day notice and comment period. It’s a time during which the public can register its approval — or disapproval — of proposed rules.

Beginning this week, and continuing until July 15, 2020, the public can submit official comments online about why the fundamental right to seek asylum should not be disturbed, and a groundswell of public comment could delay or even block implementation of these regulatory changes.

In the days ahead, I will be working with “John,” “Sofia” and “Ana” to submit their stories — and to encourage the Department of Justice to save the lives of others just like them.

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Sarah Sherman-Stokes Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Sarah Sherman-Stokes is associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program at Boston University School of Law.

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