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.

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