Asylum Officers: Trump’s Proposed Asylum Overhaul Violates U.S., International Laws

Categories: DHS, The Insider

Asylum officers are voicing their opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed regulations that, if implemented, would dismantle the country’s asylum system and require officers to violate U.S. and international laws.  

The Trump administration in June published a 161-page proposal creating barriers at all stages of the asylum process, making it more difficult if not impossible for those fleeing prosecution to seek refuge in the United States —particularly refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.   

The AFGE National Citizen and Immigration Services Council 119, which represents asylum officers nationwide, submitted comments July 15 opposing the anti-refugee rules and saying that implementing them would cause Council 119 members to have to violate their oath.    

"We felt compelled to file these public comments,” said Michael Knowles, spokesperson for the council. “The asylum officers we represent have taken a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution and faithfully administer the laws of the United States. The proposed new rules are contrary to U.S. and international laws concerning the protection of refugees -- and if implemented, would cause our members to violate their oaths and be complicit in an egregious violation of human rights. Our members expect us to speak out on their behalf."  

Here are a few examples of how the proposed regulations would force the officers – and the United States – to violate the laws and human rights:   

  • Narrow down the definition of “persecution” to deny legitimate asylum seekers the protections required by law. An individual who has been threatened but not yet physically harmed, for example, would likely be unable to establish past persecution. It should be noted that the Convention Against Torture, which describes harm that may be more severe than persecution, specifically lists types threats as types of harm that may constitute. This attempt to redefine persecution violates U.S. and international law as well as decades of case law and precedent. 
  • Require asylum officers and immigration judges to consider illegal entry as a negative discretionary factor and allows asylum officers and immigration judges to deny cases based solely on discretion noting illegal entry as the discretionary factor. The Immigration and Nationality Act states in plain language that anyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status or how he or she entered the US, can legally apply for asylum. It is not illegal to seek asylum. Considering the manner of entry as a negative discretionary factor in the adjudication of a person’s asylum claim violates U.S. and international law. 
  • Make it easier for asylum seekers who are not fully familiar with the nuances of the highly complex body of federal immigration law to be punished for accidentally filing “frivolous” asylum requests. 
  • Allow immigration judges to deny asylum applications without ever allowing the individual their day in court. This would allow immigration judges to deny asylum cases based solely on the paper application filed without a hearing. This is especially problematic for asylum seekers who do not have an attorney and may not be familiar with the exact phrasing and evidence needed to support their cases.  

The U.S. immigration law does not grant the Executive Branch the power to make the types of wholesale changes reflected in the proposed regulations.   

Council 119 urges the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately rescind the proposed regulation and instead focus their efforts on advancing policies that ensure that people who need refugee protection can find safety in the United States.  

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