In yet another step to punish refugees for seeking asylum, on April 29, 2019, President Trump released a memorandum enumerating his plans to further restrict asylum seekers’ access to protection. The memo proposes policies that will fundamentally undermine asylum seekers’ access to a fair day in court while also creating unnecessary and cruel obstacles that will make it exceedingly difficult for anyone to successfully navigate the asylum process. The policies that the president proposes display a complete lack of regard for established U.S. and international asylum law.

The memo instructs the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security to take action to alter the asylum application process in the following ways:

  1. Impose a fee to apply for asylum, thereby creating a financial bar to protection. Already, asylum seekers are denied a public defender, forcing those who are unable to pay for a private attorney— 90-95% of detained immigrants in Arizona—to represent themselves in court. Our clients come to the U.S. fleeing danger, oftentimes leaving behind everything they have. Imposing a fee for asylum would make the relief inaccessible to the vast majority of our clients. Access to lifesaving protection should not be afforded to only those who can pay.
  2. Speed the processing of asylum cases. This measure would mandate that all asylum cases, including appeal, be completed within 180 days. Such a regulation threatens immigrants’ rights to due process by reducing the amount of time that they have to prepare their testimony and gather evidence of persecution. This will especially affect our clients, whose detention adds a significant barrier to accessing evidence and resources needed to defend their claims.
  3. Severely restrict access to work authorization for people whose asylum applications are pending. This provision will make it impossible for released asylum seekers to support themselves while their cases are moving forward. Asylum seekers, including families with children, should not have to face homelessness and hunger because they are unable to legally work to provide for themselves while they await a final decision in their case.
  4. Reallocate the responsibility to process Credible Fear Interviews (CFI) among employees of the Department of Homeland Security, in effect asking Border Patrol agents and other ICE officers to do the job of asylum officers. This is as absurd as allowing the police to issue a warrant without a judge signing off. The CFI is a crucial moment in an asylum case, in which the future applicant is pre-screened for their eligibility for asylum and protection from removal. Attempting to remove this responsibility from specially trained asylum officers runs directly contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Florence Project adamantly defends the rights of asylum seekers to have their claims evaluated by neutral, non-threatening, trained professionals.

The Florence Project unequivocally condemns these plans as further evidence of the current administration’s commitment to the dehumanization, vilification, and erasure of immigrants who come to the United States seeking safety. The Florence Project will continue to fight for the rights of asylum seekers and all immigrants. Thank you for your support and partnership.