The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia submitted comments this week strongly opposing a U.S. Department of Justice and Homeland Security proposed rule that would severely and unfairly restrict the number of individuals who can obtain asylum relief. If implemented the rule would represent a sweeping change to the current U.S. asylum policies and processes. Among those affected will be many Legal Aid clients, including survivors of gender-based persecution, as the proposed rule would effectively eliminate gender-based persecution as a basis for asylum.
The proposed rule would effectively gut asylum relief by allowing sweeping categorical denials, severely restricting eligibility, and imposing potential bars to relief on nearly every asylum seeker. For example, adjudicators could deny relief due to persecution based on “retribution,” “interpersonal disputes,” or “private criminal acts.” The proposed rule would, therefore, effectively eliminate the ability to obtain asylum based on any private actor harm, including gang violence, intimate partner violence, or other gender-based persecution.
In addition to substantively barring certain asylum claims, the proposed rule imposes harsh procedural limitations, which would make it virtually impossible for many asylum applicants to prevail, given the practical realities of the asylum seeking process. For decades, the United States has recognized the often desperate and widely varied experiences of asylum seekers. Adjudicators were permitted discretion in considering cases.
The proposed rule, however, would turn this discretion on its head. Adjudicators would have discretion to categorically deny applications—regardless of their merits—if an applicant failed to meet the one-year filing deadline, entered without inspection, stayed 14 days in a country en route to the U.S., used fraudulent documents, or did not pay taxes in the U.S. Moreover, denied applications could be deemed “frivolous,” which would mean that the applicant would be permanently barred from ever obtaining any form of immigration relief in the future. Finally, judges deciding claims in the defensive/removal proceedings posture could “pretermit” claims, meaning that they could order a person deported based on their paper application alone, without a hearing.
Legal Aid is proud to represent citizens and non-citizens alike as we work to make the District a more equitable and just city. Our work informs us that the proposed rule is a radical rewrite of existing asylum law. We stand with all of our sister organizations across the country in opposing these unnecessarily strict and inhumane changes. The vast majority of asylum seekers are likely to be denied asylum under the proposed rule even if they have well-founded fears of persecution. In short, the proposed rule would all but destroy our national tradition of offering refuge to those marginalized and vulnerable individuals and families.