In June, the Trump administration proposed a new rule that would make it virtually impossible for refugees to obtain asylum status in the United States.
If implemented, the new regulation would eliminate gender-based asylum entirely and forbid asylum judges from hearing any cases involving “private” disputes wherein the persecutors are not directly linked to the government. Women and families fleeing domestic violence, children fleeing gang recruitment, and LGBTQ+ people fleeing persecution would no longer qualify for asylum in the United States.
The only people who would likely qualify for asylum status would be political or religious dissenters who have openly opposed their government and have been specifically harmed by their government or risk specific harm by their government if they were to return home.
United States asylum law, defined by the Refugee Act of 1980, is built on the idea that asylum should be as accessible as possible to anyone seeking it. Asylum cases are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and rely heavily on personal testimonies of persecution for this reason.
The new regulation, however, seeks to redefine broad swathes of refugees as being automatically ineligible for asylum regardless of their lived experience.
“The goal of this asylum regulation – far from reshaping the system to improve it – is to make asylum impossible to win,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, told CNN.
This regulation is the culmination of four years of unprecedented, malicious attacks on the asylum system by the Trump administration. Through memos, executive orders, and attorney general opinions, Trump has created a series of impediments at the border, in detention centers, and in immigration courts that have made obtaining asylum nearly impossible.
The Trump administration has only accelerated its war on immigration since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. A series of draconian policy changes have effectively blocked every avenue for legal immigration to the United States.
Refugee admissions were already at a historic low in the United States. The recent changes temporarily suspended the refugee program entirely and have since slowed asylum grants almost to a halt. Since January, fewer than 150 refugees have been allowed into the country.
The new regulation will limit this even further, and it will disproportionately affect women, children, and LGBTQ+ people.
“The proposal of ending gender-based asylum is such [an] attack on women and girls all over,” said Aicha, a refugee represented by the Tahirih Justice Center. “If this was in place or had taken effect while I was filing for my asylum, this could’ve probably ended my life. For women and children fleeing violence and still in the same places where laws of the country does not protect them, it is even more dangerous and cruel.”
Sources: Feminist Newswire 7/10/2020; Ms. Magazine 7/8/2020; Tahrirh Justice Center 6/10/2020; CNN 6/10/2020