June 17, 2019
It seems like every month the Administration comes up with yet another way to restrict the ability of asylum seekers to obtain protection from persecution in order to deter the flow of refugees. On April 29, President Trump issued a memorandum ordering changes to U.S. asylum policies. The memo orders the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to propose regulations within 90 days that would:
  • Require asylum seekers to pay a fee to apply for protection.
  • Require applicants to pay a fee to apply for work authorization for the first time. (Right now, asylum applicants — who must wait 180 days before qualifying for work authorization — can apply for their initial period of work authorization without paying a fee but are required to pay for subsequent renewals.)
  • Place people who have shown a credible or reasonable fear of being persecuted or tortured into limited removal proceedings that would restrict the judges' ability to consider any forms of relief aside from asylum or withholding of removal.
  • Prohibit anyone who has entered or attempted to enter the U.S. unlawfully from qualifying for work authorization until their asylum applications are approved.
  • Give immigration courts a 180-day limit to adjudicate asylum claims "absent exceptional circumstances." The White House memo fails to address the 800,000-case immigration court backlog that causes years-long delays to asylum cases and will make it impossible for the government to meet this deadline.

This proposed change would be the first time in U.S. history that asylum seekers would have to pay to apply for asylum. People fleeing violence and persecution are among the most vulnerable in the world, and often leave their homes with little more than the clothes on their backs. Forcing them to pay a fee, even if nominal, would be an insurmountable challenge to many asylum seekers, leaving them unable to access protections that they are entitled to under both international and domestic law. Moreover, the proposal to place asylum seekers into special, limited proceedings means that the Administration is blocking people from applying for relief that Congress has made available to individuals in these vulnerable situations. Currently, a person who arrives at the border and establishes a credible fear of persecution can prepare and build their case for asylum and present it before an immigration judge. The changes proposed by the White House would curtail an asylum seeker's ability to present their case and would continue to strain the immigration courts.

While the memo sets forth the expectation that asylum cases must be adjudicated in 180 days absent "exceptional circumstances," it does nothing to resolve the immigration court backlog that has contributed to asylum seekers waiting years to have their claims heard. These proposed regulations would cause immigration court dockets to be reshuffled once again, forcing people who have been waiting in line for years to wait even longer.

These latest proposed changes would significantly affect families seeking safe passage under long-standing U.S. asylum protections.

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