On Monday April 29th, President Trump ordered new restrictions on asylum seekers at the Mexican border. In a memorandum sent to Kevin McAleenan, the Secretary of Homeland Security and to William P. Barr, the U.S. Attorney General, the President is taking another step toward reshaping asylum law. In this “presidential memorandum” he proposed to charge a fee for asylum applications, to stop issuing work permits to asylum seekers until their applications have been approved, and to require asylum cases to be wrapped in 180 days.
According to President Trump, he released this memo because the immigration and asylum system is in crisis as a consequence of the mass migration of aliens across the southern border. “The purpose of this memorandum is to strengthen asylum procedures to safeguard our system against rampant abuse of our asylum process,” President Trump said in the memo. The President makes it evident that he will take a tougher stance on the asylum seekers overloading the border.
The restrictions do not take effect immediately. President Trump has given administration officials 90 days to draw up regulations that would carry out his orders. They would be among the first vital changes to asylum policy since Mr. McAleenan replaced Kirstjen Nielsen as head of homeland security.
There are more than 800,000 cases pending, with an average wait time of almost two years in immigration courts. The Trump administration added to that backlog when it directed immigration authorities to reopen thousands on nonviolent removal cases.
The memo is specifically directed toward authorities to set a fee for asylum seekers filing claims and for their work permit applications. Migrants who have entered or attempted entering the United States illegally would also be barred from receiving a work permit until their claims are adjudicated.
After the memo’s release on Monday night, Julian Castro, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former Obama administration housing secretary, called the orders “truly sickening.” “Families are fleeing violence and turmoil to seek refuge at our borders and Donald Trump wants to charge them a fee to gain asylum,” he stated on Twitter.
While most asylum seekers pass their initial interview with an asylum officer, only about 20% ultimately gain the right to live and work in the United States, Applicants must show evidence of past persecution and establish a “well founded” fear that they would face danger if they returned home.
US Customs and Border Protection officials encountered about 100,000 people at the US-Mexico border in March the highest level in more than a decade, and one which officials say is pushing resources to the breaking point.
This latest memo is a test for the new acting homeland security secretary, Kevin McAleenan, who took the position after several top immigration officials were forced out. The officials were reportedly forced out for not being aggressive enough in delivering Trump’s restrictionist agenda.
On Tuesday morning, Trump appeared to defend the decision by tweeting about immigration and drug cartels in Mexico, who largely transport their drugs to customers in the US through legal ports of entry.
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act states that any foreigner who arrives in the USA, “whether or not at a designated port of arrival,” may apply for asylum. A United Nations treaty signed in 1951 by the United States says “refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry: because extreme situations sometimes “require refugees to breach immigrations rules.”