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January 29, 2020

Refugees and Asylum-Seekers Need Not Apply

Proposed Changes Continue to Close the Door

  Photo of an asylum seeker

Photo of an asylum seeker

The United States has long been perceived as a safe haven for those seeking protection from persecution and violence around the world. However, at a time when the global number of refugees is at an all-time high, the United States is slowly closing the door on refugees and asylum-seekers. The U.S. will accept only 18,000 refugees for resettlement in 2020, the lowest number in history, and an Executive Order was issued that authorizes states and localities to refuse to accept placement of refugees in their jurisdictions. In late 2019, the administration issued a series of proposed rules that would severely restrict the ability of persons to obtain asylum in the United States. The ABA commented on each of these rules, expressing concerns about the unduly restrictive and inflexible limitations on individuals seeking asylum.

One proposed rule would make persons ineligible to claim asylum if they transited through a “safe third country” before arriving at the U.S. border. This policy will mean that asylum seekers from Central America who have traveled though other countries may be forced to file for asylum in Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, countries that have some of the highest rates of violence in the world. Another proposed rule would, for the first time, impose a fee on those seeking to apply for asylum, putting the U.S. among only a handful of countries in the world to charge such a fee.

An additional proposed rule would severely limit asylum seekers from obtaining employment authorization in order to support themselves while pursuing their asylum claims. Among other problems, employment authorization would no longer be available during judicial review of a claim or for parolees who have established a credible fear of persecution.

The fourth proposed rule would create additional barriers to asylum eligibility based on criminal history that the ABA believes are problematic for numerous reasons, including because they are  inconsistent with the United States’ international law obligations. The ABA also is opposed to this rule because it would require adjudicators to conduct separate factual inquiries into the basis for criminal convictions or allegations of criminal conduct to determine whether the individual is eligible for asylum.

These proposals are simply the latest in a long line of executive actions over the past several years that together threaten to effectively preclude many legitimate asylum-seekers from seeking protection from persecution in the United States. The ABA repeatedly has emphasized that our government must address the immigration challenges facing our nation by means that are humane, fair, and effective – and that uphold the principles of due process. The ABA will continue to oppose these and other executive and legislative proposals that fail to meet those standards.