A Golden Door Slamming Shut – The Trump Administration´s Systematic Plan to Reject Asylum Seekers by Barbara Randolph

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Barbara Randolph is Chair of Women Energized to March, Act and Demonstrate, Davidson, Immigration Committee and volunteer leader of our Stan Greenspon Center immigrant justice advocacy network

Our nation, through the acts of the Trump Administration and the silence of those in power, is sending a clear message to the world: we are putting the gas pedal to the floor with an unforgiving and cruel approach toward the homeless, tempest-tossed” for whom our Statue of Liberty lifts her “lamp beside the golden door!” This is an assault and debasement of American values.

We need to be clear about what is happening here: the measures taken by various government agencies during the last eighteen months are systematically closing the avenues that allow for passage through that “golden door”. The actions of this President are not the work of an inexperienced and inconsistent politician or an improvised attempt to “play to the base,” but are indeed those of a man and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who are intolerant of those in desperate need of help, and especially intolerant toward those whose origins and skin color simply do not align with theirs.

The action of Trump’s Executive Order on June 20th ending the separation of children from parents does nothing to reunite separated families and institutes a policy of incarcerating entire families. This is not worthy of the victory lap he awarded himself. Ordering the infrastructure plan for detention facilities and allocating taxpayer dollars to build these facilities is a further attack on the principles of our Founding Fathers. This was not an act of humanity.

With respect to asylum seekers, I must voice loudly my view that this administration shows an utter lack of a nuanced or culturally sensitive understanding of the fear that drives these “tempest-tossed” to our door.

A brief backdrop:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data issued on June 6th show that apprehensions (the number of migrant arrests of those illegally crossing the border between ports of entry) in May increased 178% over the same month a year earlier. This follows increases of 207% in March and 244% in April from those months in 2017. The administration and its allies contend that these increases represent a crisis at the border that demands tougher border policies and major additional resource infusions, especially construction of a border wall. [1]

The important difference about apprehensions in recent years, but particularly in 2017 and 2018, is the proportion of migrants that are either traveling as unaccompanied children or as families consisting of both adults and children. The face of migration at the border has changed from primarily men from Mexico due to demand by the US employment market for additional labor, to women, children and entire families fleeing unspeakable conditions of violence in Central America, in an attempt to save their lives.

It is important to highlight the President’s dangerous discourse dehumanizing these individuals via Twitter, likening this recent migration trend to an “infestation” of migrants at our borders, and summarily framing this as a national security threat. This dismisses entirely the reality of their plight and deems baseless their intent. This is not the truth.

These are the steps President Trump’s Administration has taken in the past year to dismantle the immigration program for asylum seekers before our very eyes:

  1. The administration separated, and continues to separate, families even when they have followed the Trump administration’s guidance to request asylum at an official port of entry. [2]
  2. The administration adopted an initiative – Zero Tolerance Policy- in which the U.S. government prosecutes all those who cross the U.S. border without authorization. This is resulting in the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers and imposition of criminal sentences prior to consideration of any claims for asylum.
  3. The Attorney General overturned a U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ruling on the status of a Salvadoran woman who suffered domestic violence in her homeland and sought refuge in the United States. The decision dramatically restricts asylum claims in regard to domestic violence.
  4. In January 2017, President Trump signed executive order 13767, which instructed the Secretary of Homeland Security to revise the process of the “credible fear interview.” In short, these changes could bar applicants with legitimate asylum claims from accessing a full hearing in immigration court. Without a hearing to establish the facts of a case, even a small error on a form could sabotage a valid asylum claim.
  5. The Attorney General limited the ability of asylum seekers to appeal a decision.
  6. The Attorney General restricted the discretion that immigration judges have over their dockets.
  7. The Attorney General established the precedent to now personally adjudicate a case.
  8. The Attorney General significantly narrowed the availability of asylum for people fleeing persecution by non-state actors—a decision that will generally preclude protection for, among others, victims of gang violence and gender motivated crime, particularly crimes against gender nonconforming individuals.
  9. Lastly, under new rules soon to be instituted, the criminal background and immigration status of all sponsors and any other adult living in the household will be examined. Biometric data, such as fingerprints, will also be required. The checks are under the authority of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and are proposed to be undertaken by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These new background checks submitted to ICE will have a chilling effect on reunification efforts. [3]

The Architect in Chief, Donald J. Trump, has methodically created a circular pattern through the criminalization of immigration, while at the same time closing the door for asylum and ironically, arresting asylum seekers, including families with children. When the Trump Administration claims they are doing their work to support family values, they mean “American family” values only as clearly articulated on the Republican Party website.

[1] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/crisis-border-not-numbers

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/02/27/mother-child-fled-congo-fearing-death-ice-has-held-them-separately-for-months-lawsuit-says/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a8e556667549

[3] https://www.npr.org/2018/06/19/621065383/what-we-know-family-separation-and-zero-tolerance-at-the-border


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