Posted on June 15, 2020

Trump is Quietly Gutting the Asylum System Amid the Pandemic

Nicole Narea, Vox, June 12, 2020

The Trump administration has proposed a regulation that would deliver its biggest blow to the US asylum system yet, vastly expanding immigration officials’ authority to turn away migrants. If enacted, it would all but close America’s doors to asylum seekers — a signature policy for a president desperately trying to rally his base in an election year.

The regulation, which was announced Wednesday, would allow immigration officials to discard asylum seekers’ applications as “frivolous” without so much as a hearing, and make it impossible for victims of gang-related and gender-based violence to obtain protection in the US. It would also refuse asylum to anyone coming from a country other than Canada or Mexico, or who does not arrive on a direct flight to the US, as well as anyone who has failed to pay taxes, among other provisions.

President Donald Trump has been working to dismantle the asylum system for years, but this latest regulation is part of an election-year push to curtail immigration. In recent months and under the pretext of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, his administration has closed the US-Mexico border, begun rapidly returning asylum seekers arriving on the southern border to Mexico, and issued a temporary ban on the issuance of new green cards — policies that are now being challenged in court.

He is also expected to soon impose new restrictions on work-based visas with the stated purpose of protecting jobless Americans.

These policies had already made it exceedingly difficult for asylum seekers to apply for and obtain protections amid the pandemic. The administration’s latest regulation would make it all but impossible.


How Trump has gutted asylum

Migrants have the right to pursue asylum in the US if they have “credible fear” of persecution in their home countries on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership in a “particular social group,” such as a tribe or ethnic group. Once they are granted asylum, they can obtain social services through refugee resettlement agencies and apply for a green card one year later.

The US has historically sought to be a safe haven for these immigrants, providing a global model of how a powerful country should support the world’s most vulnerable people. But since February 2017, Trump has built up, layer by layer, a series of obstacles for asylum seekers arriving at the southern border, forcing many to wait in Mexico for months at a time. US Customs and Border Protection officials have been limiting the number of asylum seekers they process at ports of entry each day, making migrants wait in Mexico for their turn.

Even after migrants are processed, they are quickly sent back to Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). More than 60,000 migrants have been sent back to await decisions on their US asylum applications. {snip}

All of these restrictions on asylum have purportedly been implemented with the aim of clamping down on fraudulent claims that could be based on, for example, fake identification documents or fabricated testimony about the circumstances an applicant is fleeing in their home country.


In recent months, the administration has found another rationale for clamping down on asylum: the coronavirus pandemic. When the pandemic hit, US Customs and Border Protection invoked public health authorities to turn away asylum seekers who might be carrying the coronavirus. More than 20,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the new system after being processed in the field. {snip}

Now, the administration is yet again invoking claims of fraud as the rationale for the new regulation, arguing that it will help the Justice and Homeland Security departments “more effectively separate baseless claims from meritorious ones.”