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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

DACA Reform and Its Hostages (i.e., Asylum Seekers)

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President Trump recently sent a letter to Congress laying out his "Administration's principles for reforming our Nation's immigration system." In effect, this is what the President wants in exchange for agreeing to legalize DACA recipients (also known as Dreamers). Whether this is an opening bid or a final offer remains to be seen, but many Democrats and some Republicans seem to view the proposal as a non-starter.


Haggling over brown people? Where have I seen that before?

While the President's letter covers a wide range of topics--from the border wall to hiring more ICE agents to eliminating the DV lottery--I want to focus here on the possible effects on our asylum system. Specifically, Section 1-C of the letter, Asylum Reform, lists the Administration's ideas for "correcting the systemic deficiencies that created that [asylum] backlog." Would that these ideas were so benign.

Below, I have listed the text of the President's letter in bold, and added my comments (and complaints) in italics. Without further ado, here is the President's proposal with commentary:

The massive asylum backlog has allowed illegal immigrants to enter and stay in the United States by exploiting asylum loopholes.
It seems what the President means by "asylum loopholes" is the asylum process itself. But asylum is not a "loophole." It is the law, which says that if a person is physically present in the U.S. and he fears persecution in his home country, he can apply for asylum and stay here until his case is adjudicated. An executive order from the President cannot nullify this, but Congress and the President together can change the asylum law. I have not seen any movement in that direction, at least not yet.

There are more than 270,000 pending cases in the asylum backlog before USCIS, and approximately 250,000 asylum cases before EOIR. Therefore, the Administration proposes correcting the systemic deficiencies that created that backlog.
I don't get to say this too often, but I agree with Trump! The backlog is way too large, and we need to reduce it. The Administration wants to hire 370 new Immigration Judges and 1,000 ICE attorneys. I've written before about some constructive and low-cost ideas for reducing the backlog. If anyone in the Administration is interested, you can see my thoughts here.

i. Significantly tighten standards and eliminate loopholes in our asylum system.
It's not clear which standards would be tightened and which loopholes eliminated. There are plenty of changes that could be made. Some might be productive (such as cracking down on notario and attorney fraud); others would likely result in eligible aliens being denied asylum and returned to face persecution (raising the evidentiary bar, for example). One area of concern for the Administration is asylum seekers at the border who arrive here and are then paroled into the U.S. Whether we could block such people without violating our treaty obligations (and our moral values) is an open question. Of course, Congress has the power to override treaties, but the unintended consequences of such a move might do (additional) damage to our standing in the world.

ii. Elevate the threshold standard of proof in credible fear interviews.
Presumably, this will go beyond what the Trump Administration has already done to make it more difficult for asylum seekers arriving at the border or an airport. Again, how much can be done without abrogating our treaty obligations is unclear, but certainly Congress and the President can make it more difficult for people arriving here and requesting asylum upon arrival.

iii. Impose and enforce penalties for the filing of frivolous, baseless, or fraudulent asylum applications, and expand the use of expedited removal as appropriate.
Why these two proposals did not warrant their own Roman numerals, I do not know. As for the first, there are already severe immigration consequences for filing a frivolous asylum application (including a bar to all benefits under the INA), but I suppose the penalties could always be made worse. Also, the Trump Administration has already set forth a policy on expedited removal, so perhaps the new proposal would incorporate those ideas (which basically expands the temporal and geographic boundaries of expedited removal).

iv. Close loopholes in the law to bar terrorist aliens from entering the country and receiving any immigration benefits.
As you might imagine, the immigration law currently has no provisions what-so-ever to block terrorists from coming here. Amazing that no one noticed this before. Lucky for us, some keen-eyed Trump Administration official caught the problem, and so now we can finally make some rules blocking terrorists. Whew!

v. Clarify and enhance the legal definition of “aggravated felony” to ensure that criminal aliens do not receive certain immigration benefits.
An alien convicted of an aggravated felony is ineligible for most immigration benefits, including asylum. I agree that the definition of aggravated felony could use some work--some offenses that might seem serious (like assault and battery against a police officer) are generally not aggravated felonies under the Immigration Act; other crimes that seem minor (such as shoplifting) might be an aggravated felony. It's clearly not equitable. My fear is that the Trump Administration will blindly expand the definition of aggravated felony so that any crime--no matter how minor--will bar asylum seekers from the U.S. and will needlessly divide more families through deportation.

vi. Expand the ability to return asylum seekers to safe third countries.
The idea of sending asylum seekers back to the last "safe" country they passed through is not new. For various reasons, I doubt it is the magic bullet that some immigration resrictionists think it is. For one thing, it is difficult to know whether a particular country is safe, and so I suspect that such a provision might just shift the battle from the fear of persecution in the home country to whether the third country is "safe." Also, whether the "safe" countries will agree to accept non-citizens we send their way seems doubtful.

vii. Ensure only appropriate use of parole authority for aliens with credible fear or asylum claims, to deter meritless claims and ensure the swift removal of those whose claims are denied.
This provision probably involves closing "loopholes" at the border. Here, some data might be useful. Is there any evidence that paroled aliens commit crimes? How often do such people fail to appear for court hearings? What is the cost of detaining such individuals? Making rational and effective policies requires answering such questions before taking action.

viii. Prevent aliens who have been granted asylum or who entered as refugees from obtaining lawful permanent resident status if they are convicted of an aggravated felony.
There is a waiver available to refugees and asylees who commit crimes (INA § 209(c)), including in some cases, aggravated felonies. However, BIA case law largely already prevents aggravated felons from taking advantage of the waiver. My main problem with eliminating the waiver is that it will result in people being deported to countries where they face harm, even for relatively minor crimes (many minor crimes are considered aggravated felonies already, and the Trump Administration plans to broaden the definition of aggravated felony even further).

ix. Require review of the asylee or refugee status of an alien who returns to their home country absent a material change in circumstances or country conditions.
Asylees who return home are already subject to having their status terminated. So like many of the provisions listed here, this one seems like piling on. Also, there are legitimate reasons why some asylees need to return home--to see sick family members, for example. Also, in some cases, asylees do not fear their home government; they fear terrorist groups in their country. Such people can return home for a brief period, but if they remain in their country for the long term, they face great danger. The current law recognizes this, and makes some exceptions for asylees who return home. This seems more fair than a blanket prohibition.

None of these provisions have yet been implemented or incorporated into law, and we will have to see how negotiations proceed. The Administration can argue that it is fair to bargain with the fate of DACA recipients in order to "reform" our immigration system (which certainly does need reforming). And perhaps that is the reality of politics. But I can't help think there is a better way, and that it is not necessary to pit one minority group against another, and to hold so many innocent people hostage to a political agenda.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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Updated 10-17-2017 at 11:48 AM by JDzubow

Tags: asylum, daca Add / Edit Tags

Comments

  1. ImmigrationLawBlogs's Avatar
    While Trump's letter doesn't specifically say: "Abolish all US asylum laws", it certainly seems to be moving quickly in that direction.

    And asylum is not the only benefit that Trump and the white supremacists who seem to be the only people he listens to on immigration policy want to restrict or abolish as the price for agreeing to any from of DACA legislation.

    Trump's list of immigration "Principles and Policies" also includes a few small details such as abolishing the (more or less) race and nationality neutral immigration system that America has had for the last half century, ever since the 1965 immigration reform law was enacted; and replacing it with the Eurocentric RAISE Act, which, under the pretext of adopting a skewed and distorted version of an immigration "point system" which has (in fairer and more open versions) worked well in Canada and other countries, would take our legal immigration system back toward the direction of the openly racist, "Nordics"-only National Origins Immigration Act of 1924 - which Adolf Hitler so admired, and which Trump's attorney general. Jeff Sessions also praised as a Senator in his immigration "Handbook" for Congressional Republicans as recently as in 2015, nine decades later.

    Roger Algase
    Attorney at Law
    Updated 10-12-2017 at 05:51 PM by ImmigrationLawBlogs
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