DHS Instruction to Asylum Officers Violates U.S. and International Law

WASHINGTON, DC, July 13, 2018 – Late on July 11, 2018, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued separate guidance redefining core principles of America’s asylum laws, that will have far-reaching implications for asylum seekers, refugees, and others seeking protection under U.S. law.

Anastasia Tonello, AILA President stated, “With the issuance of these memos, the administration has turned U.S. asylum law on its head. The memo incorrectly instructs asylum officers to deny domestic violence and gang-related claims as a matter of course, when the law requires those claims to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Mothers who have endured horrific abuse by their domestic partners, only to be refused protection by law enforcement authorities in their home country, will be deported back to life-threatening conditions with their children. Young people who refuse to be inducted into criminal gangs, whose family members have been killed as a warning will be cast back into danger without any meaningful process to protect them. Our nation cannot turn its back on such horrors in the way this policy instructs USCIS officers to do. Further, the government is making the act of crossing the border in search of protection grounds for denying asylum, in violation of U.S. and international laws which guarantee the right to seek asylum for those fleeing violence and persecution in their home country. The new DHS policy goes hand-in-hand with the Attorney General’s zero tolerance plan to prosecute every illegal border crosser, even those who do so only to seek humanitarian protection and have no wrongful intent.”

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Benjamin Johnson, AILA Executive Director, added, “The new guidance also calls for asylum officers to act like immigration judges, contravening the process established by Congress to simply conduct preliminary ‘credible fear’ screenings at the border. Instead, those who are still experiencing the trauma of terrible violence and an arduous journey will be forced to prove the merits of their case immediately, without an attorney, without any understanding of the complex legal standards associated with asylum, and without any opportunity to gather documents and other evidence to support their claim. This is not what Congress envisioned and is not what our Constitution demands, which is due process under the law for asylum seekers. For centuries, America has stood as a beacon for those who seek safety and security for themselves and their families. With this guidance, the administration is upending those fundamental values. We call on Congress to take a hard look at these policies that violate our nation’s laws and hold the administration accountable for this gross overreach of executive authority.”

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members. www.aila.org