Last-Minute Trump Regulatory Changes Spell Death for Asylum

San Antonio – In the past week, the Trump Administration has finalized five regulatory changes that would seriously narrow the scope of asylum, harm the judicial process, and violate existing law and the rights of asylum seekers.

The changes would, among other things, do the following:

  1. Require all asylum applications be filed within 15 days of an asylum seeker’s first court hearing
  2. Assess a filing fee for all asylum applications, for the first time in U.S. history with no opportunity for a waiver of the fee
  3. Place onerous burdens on asylum seekers to ensure their applications are accepted by the immigration court, including permitting outright rejection of applications that do not conform to specific form-filling instructions and providing limited opportunity to remedy errors;
  4. Change the role of the immigration judge from a neutral arbiter to one that can enter its own evidence into an asylum seeker’s case regardless of the parties’ position on that evidence, and permitting an immigration judge to deny asylum applications without considering any evidence
  5. Shift the burden from the government to the asylum seeker to prove certain elements of asylum applications, and to ensure evidence is admitted in court
  6. Limit the types of harms that can make one eligible for asylum, essentially prejudging claims, and ruling out nearly claims based on domestic violence, LGBTQ persecution, and harms committed by transnational criminal organizations
  7. Narrow the definition of torture, and the scope of protection under the Convention Against Torture

“By narrowing the grounds on which individuals can claim asylum and creating new and inappropriate mandatory asylum bars, the regulations will prevent many individuals with legitimate asylum claims from accessing safety in the United States,” said Manoj Govindaiah, director of policy and government affairs at RAICES. “These changes will effectively decimate the U.S. asylum system, contradicting both the plain language of controlling statutes and due process. They will also place many refugees in danger of refoulement to their countries of origin without adequate opportunity to apply for protection, violating U.S. obligations under international law.”

These changes would begin to go into effect on January 11, 2021, continuing the outgoing Trump administration’s pattern of implementing significant changes to well-established law at the last-minute and making it difficult for the Biden administration to change course. We, however, do hope and expect for President-Elect Biden to take bold executive action to rollback the impact of all of these regulations in the beginning of his administration.