WASHINGTON — A Trump administration plan to overhaul the asylum system in the United States would subject vulnerable families to danger and violate international law, officers who would carry out the policy said Wednesday.
In its public comment on the proposed regulation, the union representing federal asylum officers said it would effectively deny most migrants pursuing protection the right to have their claims of fear or persecution assessed.
“In the last three years, the executive branch of our government has sought to turn the asylum system on its head,” the union representing the officers said. “The most extreme in a recent series of draconian changes to the American asylum process, the proposed regulation dismantles our carefully crafted system of vetting asylum claims, and with it, America’s position as a global leader in refugee assistance.”
The proposal, filed last month, is one of a slew of policies the Trump administration has pushed forward to seal the border to asylum-seekers even after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.
“They would close off every possibility for the average asylum seeker to even have a fair process much less getting asylum,” said Michael Knowles, a spokesman for the National CIS Council, which represents employees with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the legal immigration agency. “How they think they can do it without violating their own laws and convention is beyond us.”
Migrants have a legal right to apply for asylum in the United States once they step on U.S. soil, regardless of whether they crossed the border legally or illegally. An officer from Citizenship and Immigration Services screens applicants to verify their claims of being persecuted based on race, religion, political beliefs or a number of other factors.
The proposal put forward in June by the department of Justice and Homeland Security would significantly raise the standard that migrants would have to meet. Those claiming to be targeted by gangs or “rogue” government officials would be more likely to be denied, and those seeking protection on the basis of their gender would see their ability to seek asylum further limited.
Migrants also would not be entitled to a full hearing in which an immigration judge could hear their claims under the proposal. And it would give officers expanded authority to declare asylum applications “frivolous,” barring migrants from seeking other forms of immigration relief in the United States.
The new proposal would also empower the Trump administration to deny asylum to migrants who spent two weeks in another country on their way to the United States and did not apply for protections there, reviving a similar measure that was recently blocked by a federal judge in Washington, D.C.
“It will burn down the American refugee protection system,” said Jason Marks, a steward for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924, which also represents some employees with Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is preparing to furlough nearly 70 percent of its work force as the immigration fees that fund the agency plummet.
The departments of Homeland Security and Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The proposal is part of a web of restrictions intended to wall off asylum seekers. The Trump administration is currently using an emergency authority granted to top federal health officials to immediately block migrants, including children traveling alone, from obtaining asylum and return them to Mexico or their home countries.
The administration built on that effort with another proposal that would allow the government to deny a migrant asylum if they had traveled from or through a country that the administration had classified as in the midst of a public health emergency. That rule would also disqualify a migrant from what’s known as a “withholding of removal,” which can delay deportation and provide an opportunity for a full hearing before an immigration judge. The burden of proof is much higher for that screening than a typical asylum interview.
Under the proposed rule, even migrants at the border who can prove they were tortured in their home country and would normally receive some protection would most likely be sent to a third country to seek sanctuary instead.
President Trump has signed accords with Guatemala and Honduras that allow the United States to deport migrants to those Central American countries, where they would have to seek asylum from those governments.