This week the White House issued a presidential memorandum calling on the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to issue regulations that would impose onerous financial burdens on asylum seekers, undermine credible fear proceedings, and force judges to rush cases through the immigration court system, at the expense of due process.
If enacted, these regulations would inflict needless suffering on asylum seekers and preclude many from even applying for protection, putting countless refugees at risk of return to life-threatening persecution.
The presidential memorandum proposes:
fees be imposed for asylum applications and applications for temporary work authorization
asylum seekers who do not enter at ports of entry be barred from even applying for work authorization while their cases are pending
untrained immigration officers may be tasked with carrying out credible fear interviews, the key screening tool used to determine whether an asylum seeker will be permitted to have her case heard by an immigration judge.
These cruel measures would exacerbate the financial hardships experienced by asylum seekers who often arrive at our border with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The impact would be felt most acutely by women, children, and domestic violence survivors, who are already particularly vulnerable to poverty, homelessness, and exploitation by unscrupulous employers, as well as LGBTQI asylum seekers, who have made a miraculous journey into our country, usually without family or friend.
African Human Rights Coalition, Melanie Nathan, notes:
At this time it takes six months after date of application for an asylum seeker to be issued a work permit. Most asylum seekers have no means of support while their cases are pending. LGBTQI asylum seekers generally do not have family or friends in the United States and arrive to no help at all. Unlike refugees, there are no organizations funded to provide direct living resources specifically for asylum seekers, such as shelter and food. In addition to those who arrive at ports of entry, African HRC is seeing an increasing number of individuals, escaping severe violence and persecution in the countries that criminalize their sexuality, seeking asylum through arrival at our Southern borders, after enduring perilous death defying journeys up the South American continent. To arrive to this sort of cruelty is unconscionable and belies our humanity and American values.
The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at U.C. Hastings notes:
The right to apply for asylum is enshrined in our domestic laws and in our international legal obligations. To impose fees on those exercising that right would run counter to the fundamental humanitarian objectives of our asylum system. Those navigating the U.S. asylum process already face considerable financial burdens. Unlike a number of other refugee-hosting countries, our government does not provide any legal or social services to asylum seekers. The Trump Administration is now attempting to impede asylum seekers’ ability to work and provide for themselves. These regulations could make the cost of applying for asylum prohibitive for individuals who might otherwise have strong claims for relief.
Our laws require that these interviews be conducted by trained asylum officers to ensure every asylum seeker is provided a meaningful opportunity to present her claim in a non-adversarial setting. Delegating such a critical responsibility to immigration officers trained in enforcement, rather than protection, would undermine the screening process and put bona fide asylum seekers at heightened risk of deportation.
“Last night’s memorandum marks yet another shameful attempt by the White House to undermine access to asylum, sow chaos and confusion at the border, and punish refugees for asserting their legal right to seek protection,” CGRS Director Karen Musalo said today. “We call on Administration officials and on our elected representatives to unequivocally reject the president’s cruel and punitive proposals, which fly in the face of our most fundamental commitments to refugees.”