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grants non-citizens at a U.S. border with protection from persecution and a chance to apply to live in the United States — and the administration is trying to end asylum at the Southern border

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Why It Matters

  • The Trump administration is trying to stop asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border through a rule that disqualifies refugees from asylum if they passed through a country (besides their home country) to get to the United States.

  • The United States is supposed to grant asylum to immigrants who prove their government can’t protect them from persecution for their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. 

  • The “membership in a social group” qualification for asylum used to include domestic violence victims. However, the administration stopped letting domestic violence qualify, and it has since turned away women fleeing domestic violence.

  • President Trump also instituted a policy aimed at ending asylum for immigrants who enter the U.S. outside of certain designated ports of entry.

Key Players

Donald Trump

President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
Mike Pence

Vice President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Resigned: 11-07-2018
William Barr

U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Nominated by Trump: 1-3-2019

How We Got Here & Where We're Headed

The Timeline

  • What to expect next
    More asylum-seekers are likely to be denied protections — and deported

  • 2-24-2020
    Public charge rule goes into effect nationwide

  • 1-27-2020
    Supreme Court rules that the administration can use its new “public charge” standard while lawsuits against it go forward

  • 9-1-2019
    Supreme Court temporarily permits third-country rule, which denies most asylum claims at the Southern border

  • 8-21-2019
    Trump administration announced a final "family detention" rule that would allow the administration to detain children indefinitely.

  • 8-12-2019
    Trump administration issues final “public charge” rule designed to stop immigrants from accessing public benefits to which they are legally entitled

  • 7-16-2019
    Rule issued that makes immigrants ineligible for U.S. asylum if they passed through Mexico — denying asylum to nearly all South American immigrants

  • 11-9-2018
    Trump announces a policy to severely restrict asylum for immigrants

View more +
  • 10-10-2018
    Trump administration proposes a rule to keep immigrants with low incomes from entering or staying in the U.S.

  • 9-7-2018
    Trump administration proposes a family detention rule to let U.S. jail immigrant children indefinitely

  • 6-11-2018
    Former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, says immigrants fleeing domestic violence don’t qualify for asylum

  • 4-6-2018
    U.S. sharply increases separation of immigrant families at the border

  • 3-27-2018
    Trump administration says it plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census; the addition is later blocked by the courts

  • 12-18-2017
    Refugee office head says he interfered with undocumented women’s abortion access

  • 12-14-2017
    Trump administration starts detaining pregnant immigrants during legal proceedings

  • 10-10-2017
    ACLU sues the Office of Refugee Resettlement for blocking a detained undocumented woman’s access to abortion

  • 9-5-2017
    The Trump administration announces it’s ending DACA



“I’m not sure how the asylum process will go, but I hope that the United States lets us in. I have been violently assaulted, robbed, discriminated against so I can’t get work, I’ve had friends killed – I can’t go back there.”

Denying Asylum to Hundreds of Thousands of Immigrants

The Trump-Pence administration’s crackdown on immigration includes expanding the government’s power to deny asylum to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. People fleeing domestic and gang violence used to qualify for asylum in the United States, but former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended that — the asylum restrictions he put in place make it nearly impossible for victims of domestic violence to enter the United States. Meanwhile, Trump’s policy on ports of entry rewrites federal immigration law that explicitly states every person who arrives at a U.S. border has the right to apply for asylum — no matter where they show up. These moves aim to dissuade immigrant individuals and families fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries from seeking safety in the United States.

These anti-asylum policies put immigrants’ health and lives at risk to try to score political points. For asylum seekers, being forced to stay or go back to in their home countries could be a death sentence.

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers can expect to get sent back into the terror they tried to escape, including women helping their children escape abuse; child abuse is often linked to intimate partner violence.

Background on Asylum

Turning Away Asylum-Seekers at Designated Checkpoints

Even at designated checkpoints, border officials are increasingly turning away asylum seekers — placing them in the position of having to decide to cross the border outside of a checkpoint and then apply for protected status, or return to an unsafe situation. In addition to border officials’ practice of turning away asylum seekers at designated checkpoints and the administration’s new policy of targeting immigrants beyond checkpoints, President Trump signed a proclamation to completely block asylum for 90 days. These actions amounted to a de-facto ban on asylum-seeking individuals and families.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund
It’s Legal to Seek Asylum Regardless of Entrance Location

Two weeks after the asylum ban was announced, District Judge Jon Tigar temporarily blocked it because it illegally denies immigrants their right to apply for asylum. Tigar pointed to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes clear that immigrants can seek asylum regardless of whether they entered the country through a designated checkpoint.

Seeing Domestic Violence Victims as Not Deserving Protection

The decision to stop letting domestic violence qualify for asylum is based on Jeff Sessions’ ruling against a woman from El Salvador who sought asylum from her husband’s sexual and physical abuse as well as from threats from his family. The administration argues that grounds for asylum shouldn’t include domestic abuse because it’s "private violence." This perpetuates the harmful idea that violence against women isn’t a public health issue and therefore isn’t the government's responsibility to protect against.

Black Youth Project
Accepting 20% of All Asylum-Seekers — But Less for South Americans

Currently, the United States only grants asylum to 20% of all applicants on average. Acceptance rates for South American countries are lower than average.

Trying to Change Federal Immigration Law to Limit Asylum New Immigration Law

According to current U.S. immigration law, immigrants can only apply for asylum at a U.S. border. Asylum seekers’ rights include timely access to asylum applications no matter where they present themselves at the border. But Trump is creating new rules that would first require refugees to first apply for asylum in another country (such as Mexico). That would dramatically reduce the number of people  eligible for asylum.

TIME Magazine
Asylum in the U.S.A: A First-Hand Account

Asylum-seekers’ stories show the real impact of the Trump administration’s policies, particularly for immigrant victims of domestic violence. Read about one woman's endless wait to submit asylum claims for herself and her children. If she doesn’t gain asylum, she and her children may have to go back to Michoacán, Mexico — where her abusive ex-boyfriend lives.

Marie Claire
Targeting People from Countries That Don’t Have Protections

The asylum ban targets immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These countries have few laws protecting people from violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Harming LGBTQ Asylum-Seekers and Other Vulnerable People

All immigrants fleeing violence are at risk. But policies like these are particularly detrimental to the health and wellbeing of women of reproductive age, children, and LGBTQ people. Almost 90% of LGBTQ asylum-seekers from Central America report suffering sexual and gender-based violence in their home countries.

UN Refugee Agency
Poor Conditions for Asylum-Seekers

Only 40 to 100 people per day are being processed by Customs and Border Protection. In the meantime, many asylum-seekers are living in overcrowded tent encampments, where they face widespread illnesses and struggle to keep children safe and dry.

The New York Times
Banning People From Asylum If They Traveled Through Mexico — and Ending Nearly All Asylum at the Sou

In September the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could enforce a new rule to ban everyone, including children, who traveled through another country and didn’t seek asylum in that country from seeking asylum in the United States. For people fleeing violence, applying for asylum while in Mexico could put them in harm’s way — forcing them to undergo an uncertain legal process while potentially staying in unsafe shelter without social support. The rule will turn away thousands of immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Immigrants, Migrants, Asylum-Seekers and Refugees

Many of those crossing the U.S. border from Central American countries are not “migrants,” as the Trump-Pence administration often refers to them. Rather, they are asylum seekers. To clarify: Immigrants choose to move to another country with the intent of living there permanently. Migrants move from place to place for education, seasonal work, and other fluid reasons. Refugees are forced to flee home because of war, violence, or persecution. Asylum-seekers are refugees who ask for protection in another country.

International Rescue Committee
Targeting Asylum-Seekers and Other Immigrants During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Citing concern over the spread of COVID-19 on March 20, 2020, the Trump-Pence administration directed immigration officials to turn people back at the US-Mexico border, one of many restrictions focused on people trying to enter the U.S. These stringent restrictions seal the border to all immigrants, including asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children fleeing violence.  Experts say the administration is exploiting the pandemic to ramp up its anti-immigration agenda. 


Related Issues

Separating Immigrant Families

Public Benefits for Immigrants

Immigrant Access to Abortion

Detention of Pregnant Immigrants

2020 Census

Legal Status for Dreamers

Pregnant Travelers

The Muslim Ban