On November 9, President Trump issued a proclamation that places severe restrictions on individuals seeking asylum through the southern border of the United States.
Trump Administration moves to bar migrants from seeking asylum
Houston’s legal community is gravely concerned about the consequences of the latest efforts to shred asylum law, a critical pathway to legal immigration
Today, President Trump issued a final rule and presidential proclamation that places severe restrictions on individuals seeking asylum through the southern border of the United States. In so doing, the Administration is effectively shutting down asylum as a pathway for legal immigration for many immigrants. Under current U.S. law, anyone newly arriving or who has been in the United States for less than one year can ask for asylum if they have a fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
This marks another executive action attacking refugees and asylum seekers, following the precedent set by the 2017 Muslim Ban and decreasing the number of admitted refugees to a mere 30,000 per year. The Administration is relying on the same authority to bar immigrants from Muslim-majority countries as justification for this new rule.
Andrea Guttin, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative’s Legal Director said:
The President is trying side-step our laws which allow anyone on U.S. soil to seek asylum when they fear they will be threatened, harmed, or killed because of who they are or what they believe. The Administration has tasked itself with dismantling asylum law since it came into power. The President is using the caravan as a scare tactic to justify his long-standing agenda to close our border to the most vulnerable. This new proclamation will lead to mothers, fathers, and children whose lives are in danger being turned away, despite our country’s moral and legal obligation to provide refuge.
American asylum law recognizes not everyone can come to a border crossing point, such as bridge or another “port of entry,” in order to seek asylum. As such, our laws permit anyone in the country to seek asylum – regardless of how they enter. Alarmingly, however, border officers have used threats, lies, and outright denials to keep out asylum seekers who do exactly what the President is asking them to do: ask for refuge at a port of entry. The government’s own Ombudsman investigated and reported earlier this summer that asylum-seekers have been turned back at the arriving port of entry, leading some “who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.”
Lauren Fisher-Flores, an immigration attorney with the Tahirih Justice Center who is currently in Mexico City providing consultations to adults and children in the caravan, said:
Yesterday, we met a significant number of transgender women, pregnant women, and children traveling without their parents, many of whom appear to be eligible for asylum based on their past persecution. We met people fleeing violence, including a police officer, his wife and two children who were threatened by his own colleagues and the gangs for refusing to join a corruption scheme; a gay man who has suffered years of persecution because of his sexuality; and a transgendered couple who have been shot at and threatened. This group is representative of many migrants seeking asylum in the United States and deserve the protections of our established laws.
In addition to limiting the number of people eligible for asylum, this proclamation paves the way for the prolonged, indefinite detention of asylum seekers. Increased detention further traumatizes those fleeing persecution and makes it more difficult to access legal representation and community support. The only beneficiaries of indefinite detention are private prison companies and the President’s political agenda.
Julie Pasch, Managing Attorney with HILSC’s Deportation Defense Houston, a project that provides legal representation to immigrants in four Houston-area detention centers, said:
It is difficult to win an asylum case because asylum law is extraordinarily complex and it nearly impossible to navigate the immigration court process alone. The Administration is using the fact that many asylum claims end up being ‘non-meritorious’ as justification for this policy change, but in fact, the two biggest factors determining whether an asylum claim is granted by an immigration judge is whether the person is represented and whether they are in immigration detention. Asylum-seekers who are detained and not represented by an attorney win their cases only about four percent of the time.
The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative stands with asylum-seekers and refugees in opposition to this action by the Trump Administration. We urge Houstonians to speak out against these policies by calling their members of Congress. Individuals, including attorneys, can volunteer with our partner organizations. We also welcome donations supporting legal representation for asylum seekers in the greater Houston region.
On September 7, 2018 the Trump Administration published a draft of new regulations concerning the detention of families which, if finalized, will increase family detention and eliminate protections for children who arrive with their parents. You can take action!
Detention of Asylum Seeking Families is an Abuse of Justice
Houston legal services providers and allies condemn the crisis manufactured by Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy; Call on local, state and federal officials to block the indefinite detention of asylum seekers through family detention.
June 22, 2018– Tuesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner publicly opposed a new Houston immigrant children’s facility. The Mayor joins calls by Houston immigrants, legal advocates and service providers to local officials, state representatives, and members of Congress to take explicit action to block considerations for any new immigrant child facilities that are a result of the family separation policy. The proposed facility is the result of the federal practice of tearing apart and imprisoning asylum-seeking families, a practice condemned by the immigrant community, advocates, and people of conscience.
On Wednesday, President Trump signed an executive order that purports to solve the self-made family separation crisis by detaining families together, a tactic that causes irreparable harm to traumatized children and their parents, who are seeking asylum in the U.S. It is not only immoral, but unlawful and would be in violation of the Flores Settlement of 1997 by allowing the indefinite detention of asylum seeking children.
Kate Vickery, Executive Director, HILSC, said:
“We are in the midst of a manufactured crisis that is creating a false need for new Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelter in Houston. While the service providers stand ready to help families impacted by family separation and we welcome these families in Houston, we reject the notion that we should enable the build-out of the detention system.
This week, the Mayor seemed to suggest he would be okay with parents and children being detained together, but we strongly believe that asylum seekers should never be imprisoned while seeking refuge in the United States. The detention of families is in the same toolkit as separating families: both are cruel tactics designed to deter immigrants from exercising their rights under national and international law to seek asylum.”
Detention is the biggest hindrance to the exercise of due process rights by immigrants pursuing legal status in the United States. In Houston, only 13% of detained immigrants have legal representation compared to 69% of non-detained immigrants. Detention facilities are far away from Houston (Conroe, Livingston), attorneys wait for hours to see their clients, and have to speak to their clients through thick plexiglass, which makes basic communication, interpretation, and document signing difficult. When an asylum seeker has legal representation, they are 14 times more likely to win their case.
We stand opposed to the detention of asylum seekers and call on Congress, the State of Texas, and the City of Houston to not only oppose family separation and family detention, but the detention of asylum seekers in general.
To learn more about HILSC and its program to provide representation to detained families, visit www.houstonimmigration.org/deportation-defense-houston/
Organizations and individuals aligned with this statement include:
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
YMCA Greater Houston
The Simmons Foundation
Texas Organizing Project
PAIR – Partnership for the Advancement & Immersion of Refugees
Hindus of Greater Houston
Sikhs of Houston
The Jung Center Houston
The Anti-Defamation League, Southwest Region
United We Dream
Kids in Need of Defense
Fe y Justicia Worker Center
Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights
Center for Advancing Innovative Policy
Tahirih Justice Center
Refugee Services of Texas
TMO, The Metropolitan Organization
Migrant Rights Collective
Justice for Our Neighbors – Houston
The Montrose Center
La Unidad 11
Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services (ECHOS)
Mi Familia Vota
Bonding Against Adversity
Galveston’s Adverse Childhood and Community Experiences Collaborative
Human Rights First
Chinese Community Center
Access Justice Houston
OCA Greater Houston
Casa Juan Diego: The Houston Catholic Worker
Black Lives Matter Houston
Montgomery County Women’s Center
The Modi Law Firm
Pamela Fulbright-Scheyer, Attorney at Law
Teresa Messer, Law Office of Teresa Messer
Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH
Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services
Geoffrey Hoffman, Attorney at Law
Virginia C. Angel, JD, MA, LPC
Ruby L. Powers, Powers Law Group, P.C.
Brenda Kirk , Bibles Badges and Business for Immigration Reform
Rosemary Vega, Attorney at Law