On April 29th President Trump released a memo instructing the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to formulate regulations that will further restrict our humanitarian asylum laws for those seeking asylum protection at the southern border.

The memo directs the implementation of regulations that will require asylum seekers to pay a fee to apply for asylum, will restrict the issuance of work permits to only those immigrants whose asylum cases have been granted, and will require the immigration courts to adjudicate all asylum cases coming through the border within 180 days of filing (six months). The language of the memo suggests that the 180-day- adjudication rule will not apply to individuals who file “affirmative” asylum applications – meaning those who enter the U.S. in a valid temporary immigration status (such as a tourist or student visa) and then file an application for asylum, but rather will apply only to individuals and families seeking asylum at the border or as a defense to removal proceedings. This is a continuation of the troubling trend of the Trump Administration targeting families fleeing violence in Central America for humanitarian legal restrictions not directed at other asylum-seeking groups.

The Administration cites fraud in the system as the rationale behind the proposed changes. The current regulations provide for a free work-permit after an asylum seeker’s application has been pending for 180 days and the immigration court’s backlog of approximately 900,000 cases has created an asylum adjudication process that can take upwards of two years to complete.

The Administration has stated on prior occasions that the promise of a free work permit and a long adjudication period induces fraudulent asylum-claims. This view, of course, ignores the well-documented violence, corruption, and lawlessness that forces many Central American asylum-seekers to flee their home countries, often leaving behind loved ones and everything they own.  Furthermore, the reality for many asylum-seekers, especially those that have undergone the credible fear process at the southern border, is that there are many administrative reasons outside of an immigrant’s control which delay the issuance of the first asylum-based work-permit well beyond 180 days and which can likewise delay the asylum application adjudication period for many years to the detriment of separated families and immigrants with loved ones facing persecution back home.  The resulting effect of the system that is already in place is that many asylum-seeking families struggle with homelessness, food insecurity, and severe financial insecurity.

The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General have 90 days to draft regulations implementing the changes.

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