The Trump administration is taking steps to limit who gets asylum in the United States. Thousands of people claiming asylum from persecution in their home countries could be turned away.
Immigration courts work differently than regular courts. They’re part of the Justice Department, so the attorney general has the power to personally overturn decisions by immigration courts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is using his authority to redefine the qualifications for asylum, and whether claimants get a hearing in court.
In one case, the attorney general eliminated a ruling that most asylum seekers have a right to a hearing in front of a judge before their claim could be rejected. In a second case, Sessions is reviewing whether victims of “private crime” should qualify for asylum.
Not every crime makes the victim eligible to claim asylum. The victim must have a well-founded fear of persecution based on certain factors like race or religion, or membership in a “particular social group.” They must also come from a place where the government won’t help them.
This shift by the Trump administration comes as the number of applications for asylum has risen sharply in recent years. Immigration courts face a huge backlog — upwards of 600,000 cases, more than triple the number in 2009.
Sessions has been trying to eliminate what he has called “rampant fraud and abuse” in those applications, and to cut into a massive backlog of immigration cases.
One factor driving that growing backlog is a constant stream of women and children from Central America. Many of these migrants claim asylum because they’ve been the victims of gangs, or domestic violence, in their home countries.
MS-13 is a product of our own prison system in the U.S. Foreigners from Central and South America who end up in prison become hardened criminals, then are deported home. The governments in Central and South America are not equipped to handle the heavy influx of hardened criminals, so the gangs took shape and thrive. Growing boys are recruited into gangs and girls into the sex trade. Families send these youngsters to Nicaragua or north eventually to the U.S. for safety.
The crisis is not so much one of fraud on a massive scale, but a global problem. The question is whether foreigners who claim asylum should be given a fair chance to be heard. Immigrants have no right to a lawyer and many immigrants are children.
A foreigner who enters the United States and express a fear of returning to the home country must pass a credible fear interview conducted by a US border agent. If released into the US, the foreigner generally has one year to submit an asylum application. The same one year rule applies to those who entered the U.S. successfully, without expressing a fear of returning home. Changed circumstances in the home country can form a basis for applying after the one year deadline.