In his latest attempt to reshape the nation’s asylum laws, President Donald Trump issued a memo to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr Monday, directing his administration to implement new, harsh restrictions on asylum in 90 days.
According to the presidential memorandum, the administration will charge asylum seekers fees and limit their access to work permits. Despite a backlog of more than 800,000 cases and a shortage of immigration judges, the memo also directs the courts to adjudicate cases within 180 days.
While some agencies, like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCSIS), charge a fee of more than $1,000 depending on the immigration program, applying for asylum — which is not adjudicated by USCIS — has historically been free. Under this new memo, asylum seekers will also be charged a fee in order to get work authorization.
Work permits are essential for asylum seekers because they allow them to support themselves legally while their cases are processed. It’s not as though any asylum seeker who passes their credible fear interview is immediately eligible for a work permit. The process is lengthy and they are not eligible to work until the six months after they filed their asylum applications — which is months after they first arrive in the United States. In the meantime, asylum seekers must provide for themselves.
“The current proposal is another example of downright poor policy, and is also heartless,” Archi Pyati, the chief of policy at the Tahirih Justice Center, an organization that aids immigrant women fleeing gender-based persecution, said in a statement. “This scheme will fail to bring protection to those who need help, and will cripple the already broken system even further.”
This is the first dramatic shift in immigration policy since multiple officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resigned, like former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, because they were reportedly facing pushback from the president for not being tough enough on the border. It will also be the first test for McAleenan — who is viewed by most in the federal government as a moderate policy wonk — to see if he will follow through on the administration’s drastic and legally dubious requests.
The administration has already attempted to make the aslyum process as difficult as possible, especially for those from the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — in Central America. Barr earlier this month ruled that asylum seekers who have proven they face credible fear in their countries of origin will not be eligible for bond, forcing them into mandatory detention. Under Nielsen, the administration drastically limited the number of asylum seekers processed at ports of entry — called “metering” — creating long months-long waitlists. Nielsen also created a policy colloquially referred to as “Remain in Mexico” which forces asylum seekers to apply for asylum on U.S. soil, but wait in Mexico until their name is called in court.
The latest restrictions on asylum are straight out of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s anti-immigrant playbook. According to recent reports, Miller is leading the charge on “immigration reform” and was the person who suggested implementing a new set of fees and other immigration restrictions like “public charge,” which would deny immigration visas and green cards to immigrants if they use certain types of government assistance.