Commentary, immigration

Trump immigration policies hit new low with proposal targeting asylum seekers

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In an attempt to discourage asylum claims and reshape asylum law, President Trump released a memorandum earlier this week ordering Attorney General William P. Barr, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to place new restrictions on asylum-seekers.  This memo calls for authorities to adjudicate asylum claims in Immigration Court proceedings within 180 days of filing. Among other new proposed policies, asylum-seekers would also be required to pay a filing fee to apply for asylum and their initial employment authorization applications, and immigrants who entered or attempted to enter the country unlawfully would be barred from receiving lawful permission to work before any relief is granted. The memo seeks to have these new policies in place within 90 days.

These proposed measures are another egregious attempt by the administration to deter asylum seekers from exercising their right to apply for this type of relief. Asylum seekers are generally ineligible to receive any form of federal or state aid, and they depend on receiving an employment authorization to pay for living expenses as they await the decision on their asylum claims.

The Trump proposals would do nothing more than obstruct their right to seek asylum and keep them from working legally in the country so that they can support themselves and their families while they wait for their immigration cases to be adjudicated in a notoriously clogged system. The current average wait time for someone applying for asylum is almost two years.

Moreover, it is particularly cruel to take money from those who have come to the United States hoping to reach safety and security. The vast majority of people seeking asylum escaped their countries’ oppressive and dangerous conditions, and often endured perilous journeys to come to the U.S., leaving everything behind and arriving to this country with little more than the clothing on their backs. Charging a fee to apply for this protection is counter to our values as a nation.

The bottom line: These proposed anti-immigrant policies harm and prey upon those who come to the U.S. in search of safety and protection. Seeking asylum and protection should be a human right that should come at no financial cost.

Juan Calderon is a paralegal in the North Carolina Justice Center’s Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project.