I find myself following immigration news closely again in recent weeks. The DOJ and DHS have issued proposed rule changes to our asylum system that have many concerned. These changes will drastically change the way our asylum system works and make it significantly harder to receive asylum in our country.

Just a quick reminder, asylum seekers meet the same requirements as a refugee (fleeing persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group), but they are waiting on official status approval. You can only apply from asylum from within the country or at a port of entry, while refugees receive approval before they arrive here.

What is changing?

There is too much information in the proposed rule change to cover it all here. The full 161 page document can be found here, and I recommend this article covering the highlights of what this means to asylum in the U.S.

The changes that really stood out to me are:

  • Allowing judges to deny an asylum case without allowing the asylum seeker to plead their case in a hearing (page 49).1
  • Changing the rule about persecution due to political opinion or social group to exclude persecution from non-government groups like gangs or even terrorist organizations (page 58).1
  • Raising the bar for what qualifies as persecution to “extreme concept of a severe level of harm (page 61)”.1
  • Narrowing the definition on torture to exclude torture victims if their torturer was considered a “rogue official” who is not following the law when they tortured them (page 82).1
  • Removing gender as a qualifying factor in the reason for persecution (page 64).1
  • Adding technicalities such as exclusion of claims from someone who passed more than one country or stayed in a country for at least 14 days before arriving in the U.S. (page 72).1
  • USCIS officials are given authority (previously left to a judge) to declare a claim “frivolous,” which would bar them from pursuing their claim any further (page 39).1

Some argue that the reason for these extreme measures is that we are over-burdened with migrants at the border who are seeking asylum. While it is true that apprehensions at the border have gone up in recent years, we are still seeing around 50% of the border apprehensions from the early 2000s.2 Let’s take a look at some numbers.

A look at the numbers

According to the DHS website3, 38,687 people were granted asylum in 2018. On the surface, this may sound like a pretty large number, but this is from a total of 264,9734 applications. This means only 14% of the people who applied for asylum actually received it.

There is also a significant difference in outcomes for the different categories of asylum applications. 25,439 of the 36,687 approvals were for affirmative asylum applications while 13,248 were for defensive applications.4 (See my “Who are Asylum Seekers” post for more on these categories.) Affirmative applications made up 69% of the approvals, but only 39% of the filed applications. So the individuals who filed defensive applications were granted asylum only 8% of the time.

So what does this mean? It means that it is already very hard to get asylum in our country. It has only gotten harder since these numbers from 2018 were published. “Metering” and the “Migrant Protection Protocol” policies have significantly slowed down the process for those who seek asylum now, even before the COVID shutdown.5

Also noteworthy is that the US only accepted 22,491 refugees through the refugee resettlement program (see “Who are Refugees” for more details on refugees) in fiscal year 2018.6 The cap for 2020 is even lower at 18,000. These numbers are significantly lower than in the recent past.

U.S. Annual Refugee Resettlement Ceilings and Number of Refugees Admitted, 1980 – Present, Migration Policy Initiative

Our country has already greatly decreased our role in welcoming those fleeing persecution. So why take these drastic measures now to make it even harder for people to seek asylum?

What can we do?

Right now these proposed rules are not final. The public can comment on the proposal until July 15th.

I have already left my comment, and it is very easy to do. You can follow this link to leave a comment on the Federal Register. HIAS and CLINIC have some great templates on their pages to get started. If you want to use a template, be sure to personalize it, as duplicate comments will be discarded.

I ask that we do not look away from this, friends. It only takes about 5 minutes to leave a comment on this page, and it is crucial that we have as many voices as possible on this topic.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves
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