The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Attorney General to grant asylum if an applicant is unable or unwilling to return to her country of origin because she has suffered past persecution or has a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of political opinion, race, religion, nationality or membership in a particular social group.
This commitment was enacted into law when Congress passed and the President signed the Refugee Act of 1980. I was an INS Trial Attorney at the time.
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An applicant initially presents her claim to an asylum officer, who may either grant asylum or refer the applicant to an Immigration Judge. After a hearing, the Judge determines whether the applicant is eligible for asylum. The Immigration Judge’s decision may be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the U.S. Court of Appeals, and, in rare cases, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since World War Two, more refugees have found homes in the U.S. than any other nation. More than two million refugees have arrived in the U.S. since 1980. They were welcomed to our country by both Republican and Democratic Administrations.
Today, thousands of persons from Central America have pending asylum applications. Often, they are women and children who are fleeing from gang violence.
Rather than honor long-standing asylum laws, in 2018, the former Attorney General overruled a BIA precedent decision, and ordered Immigration Judges to stop granting asylum to victims of domestic and gang violence.
The current Administration has introduced a “zero tolerance” policy which has resulted in children of asylum seekers being separated from their parents. In addition, the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. has reached an all-time low.
Last week, President Trump mocked asylum seekers from Central America characterizing their asylum claims as a “big, fat con job” engineered by lawyers volunteering at our Southern Border. Now, he is threatening to cut off foreign aid to their countries and to close the U.S.-Mexican border.
Having volunteered, along with Attorney Cheryl Gertler and Paralegal Elsa Garcia, to help Central American women and children incarcerated in Dilley, Texas during the Obama Administration, I can assure the President that the women who we spoke with feared for their lives and the lives of their children. They were threatened by members of violent gangs. Their countries have the highest murder rates in the world.
The CNN video at the top of this article features one of our attorneys, Angeline Chen, who is a co-founder of Rise to Reunite, an organization which helps Central American families who are seeking asylum in the U.S. These families are currently being held in camps in Mexico.
This Administration needs to follow U.S. asylum laws, and not try to demonize asylum seekers and their pro bono attorneys. Our country is better than this.