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How new policy changes could create challenges for asylum seekers

On Behalf of | Dec 11, 2017 | Asylum

There have been a lot of changes coming from the White House in the past year. We’ve heard about plans to build a wall and bans on immigrants with a certain nationality or religion. There have been a lot of efforts to tighten border security and reduce immigration. One policy change that hasn’t made many headlines, though, is a change that impacts the treatment of asylum seekers in the United States.

“Asylum” refers to a special circumstance under which a foreigner is granted entry into the U.S. If a person has fled their home country, where they have a legitimate fear of being tortured, persecuted or killed, they may be granted asylum—a place to legally live—in another country.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. When an immigrant arrives at U.S. border control without a visa, they can request asylum by claiming that their safety is in danger if they stay in their home country.
  2. The prospective immigrant speaks to an asylum officer, who must determine whether the immigrant’s fear is credible.
  3. If the case is deemed legitimate, it moves on to immigration court, where a judge makes a final decision on whether asylum will be granted.

The process, however, is not as quick as it might sound. It sometimes takes years between an asylum-seeker’s entry into the U.S. and their hearing. In the meantime, the asylum seeker may reside in the U.S. on a probationary basis.

Key changes to process

This year, the White House issued seemingly minor, but significant, changes to the above process. On such revision concerns the Asylum Division Officer Training program, which defines the criteria an asylum officer uses to assess whether there is “credible fear” (step 2 above). Under the previous training, for any case in which officers had reasonable doubt about whether an asylum applicant’s fear was credible, they were instructed to pass that case on to an immigration judge to decide. Under the new terms, this directive has been removed.

This change is concerning to immigrants for two reasons. Firstly, it could mean turning away vulnerable people in dangerous circumstances without ever giving them a chance to consult legal counsel or to be seen by a judge. Secondly, these changes could have a restrictive impact on immigration without requiring any change in immigration law.