I try to keep politics separate from this blog and from my professional social media presence. But I’ve spent too much time and energy on the issue of asylum law in the U.S. to listen passively while Jeff Sessions conducts his ignorant, nativist campaign against asylum-seekers.
The attorney general is pointlessly, cynically scapegoating desperate people who are in the U.S. legally, seeking safe haven from typically-violent persecution in their home countries. Until they have their hearings with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — for which they are usually made to wait two to three years — they are legally not subject to deportation, and it is grossly irresponsible for the attorney general to make statements that could prejudice USCIS against their petitions.
For at least the first six months after these people apply for asylum, they are not legally allowed to work. They are entirely reliant on their own savings or on charity. They’re certainly not taking jobs from Americans.
Even after they have their hearings, asylum-seekers typically wait years before a final decision comes down. While they are waiting, they usually are underemployed, if they are employed at all. And they are laying very low — asylum-seekers keep to the shadows, lest they attract the attention of people in their home countries who could take action against their friends or relatives.
“This is the worst part of asylum law. People talk to me, and I am 95 percent certain that they will be harmed if they go back home, but I know the government will deny them asylum.”
Christine Popp, immigration lawyer, Bloomington, Indiana
If you’re assuming that demonstrating that the applicant is likely to face violent reprisals on returning to his or her home country is enough to justify asylum…think again. Under U.S. law, the asylum-seeker has to prove that their fear is based on their membership in a persecuted group. Groups are narrowly and tortuously defined.
Most asylum applications are denied. Denials often are for arbitrary reasons, or no stated reason at all. The applicant’s chance of approval is largely based on the jurisdiction in which the hearing takes place; some offices reject more than 90% of the applications they hear. And the federal government commonly appeals asylum decisions that result in approvals.
Jeff Sessions’ rant about applicants’ gaming the asylum system is not based on any factual analysis. It’s just the latest Trump Administration attempt to make its critics feel powerless in the face of its incessant stream of irrational, antisocial, irresponsible, destructive policy pronouncements. This plays well with Trump’s extremist base, but it is immoral and impractical policy.