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Asylum

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 Trump administration tried to end asylum at the Southern border

 

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Why It Matters

  • The Trump administration squashed 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 Trump 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

The Impact: Many asylum-seekers were denied protections — and deported

  • 12-2-2020: A federal appeals court rules against the Trump-Pence administration’s public charge rule and safeguards immigrants’ access to public benefits in part of the country; however, other public charge lawsuits are playing out

  • 9-29-2020: The Office of Refugee Resettlement stops its policy of blocking, interfering with, and nonconsensually communicating about young immigrant’s access to abortion care

  • 9-14-2020: Immigrants being held in a Georgia detention center file a whistleblower complaint that alleges high rates of hysterectomies performed on unwilling detained immigrants

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

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

  • 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

View more +
  • 11-9-2018: Trump announces a policy to severely restrict asylum for immigrants
  • 9-7-2018: Trump administration proposes a family detention rule to let U.S. imprison 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

  • 12-18-2017: Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Scott Lloyd 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

 

“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 included expanding the government’s power to deny asylum to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. 

  • For decades, people fleeing domestic and gang violence qualified for asylum in the United States. But former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended that — the asylum restrictions he put in place made it nearly impossible for victims of domestic violence to enter the United States. 

  • Meanwhile, Trump’s policy on ports of entry rewrote 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 also put immigrants’ health and lives at risk to try to score political points. 

For asylum seekers, being forced to stay or go back to their home countries could be a death sentence. And for asylum-seeking women and children, being turned away can mean continued intimate partner violence and child abuse in their home countries.

Background on Asylum

Turning Away Asylum-Seekers at Designated Checkpoints

Even at designated checkpoints, border officials were increasingly turning away asylum seekers during the Trump-Pence administration. Border officials put asylum seekers 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 Trump-Pence administration’s policy of targeting immigrants beyond checkpoints, 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 related to checkpoints 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.

Fortune
Seeing Domestic Violence Victims as Not Deserving Protection

The decision to stop letting domestic violence qualify for asylum was 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 Trump-Pence administration argued 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

While Trump was president, the United States only granted asylum to 20% of all applicants on average. Acceptance rates for South American countries were lower than average.

Politifact
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 created 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 and her fear of being forced back to Michoacán, Mexico — where her abusive ex-boyfriend lives.

Marie Claire
Forcing Hysterectomies on Dozens of Detained Immigrants

Over 43 immigrants held at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia say they endured unwanted gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies and other surgeries that left them sterile. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials attempted to silence them through deporting several of them — but ICE was caught and stopped by lawyers of the accusers. 

NPR
Targeting People from Countries That Don’t Have Protections

The "Remain in Mexico" 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.

Texas Tribune
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

In the middle of Trump’s term, only 40 to 100 people per day were being processed by Customs and Border Protection. In the meantime, many asylum-seekers were living in overcrowded tent encampments, where they faced widespread illnesses and struggled 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 2019 the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could 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 put them in harm’s way — forcing them to undergo an uncertain legal process while staying in sometimes unsafe shelter without social support. The “stay in Mexico” policy turned away more than 60,000  immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and forced them to stay in Mexico while awaiting news on their asylum claims.

Slate
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 said the administration is exploiting the pandemic to ramp up its anti-immigration agenda. 

ProPublica
Definitions: 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 referred 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

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Detention of Pregnant Immigrants

2020 Census

Legal Status for Dreamers

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The Muslim Ban

Asylum