By Dean Gloster

Deadline: Comments due January 13, 2020 –

It’s the law: Refugees are legally entitled to asylum in the U.S. if they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country for specific reasons. Unfortunately, there’s law and there’s enforcement policy – and the chief architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy is Stephen Miller, whose emails, leaked last month, revealed his white nationalist views and his desire to cut refugee resettlement – and all immigration – “to zero.” 

Miller may be getting part of his wish this month, with newly-proposed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations that would make work permits for asylum claimants almost impossible to get. This isn’t in effect yet – the comment period on these proposed regulations ends January 13, 2020, so please make your voice heard by going to https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/11/14/2019-24293/asylum-application-interview-and-employment-authorization-for-applicants#open-comment to submit a comment – if that doesn’t work, go to this page and click on the green “submit a formal comment” button on the right near the top. Either way, be sure to mention you are commenting on DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0011. Read on for more info and tips for what to say.

More info/What you can do:

The proposed changes, taken together, amount to a continuation of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. They aren’t designed to improve or implement our immigration laws – they’re  designed to discourage anyone from coming here to make use of them, despite desperate situations for thousands of refugees. Here are some of the provisions of the proposed regulations: 

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will no longer be able to recommend asylum even in clear cases.
  • Applicants must pay to have their biometric data taken (fingerprints, facial recognition, etc.), and must show up to an appointment set by DHS, which may be a long distance away.
  • Immigrants have to wait a full year after applying for asylum before they can apply for a work permit.
  • Work permits become discretionary and can be turned down.
  • Work permits are no longer allowed for those who enter the U.S. outside ports of entry (which have separately been mostly closed to immigrants under the new “metering” policy). 
  • Separate work permits previously granted to those who have already established in court a well-founded fear of persecution or torture are eliminated. Instead, refugees granted asylum are forced to apply for a discretionary work permit, which can now be denied. 
  • Immigrants can only apply for work permits while they’re in the U.S., but separate new “Migrant Protection Protocol” policies keep them in Mexico when they apply for asylum.

Here are some ideas you can use to comment on the proposed regulations, but please use your own language; comments that are too similar may be grouped together and not considered individually.

  • The proposed regulations are directly contrary to the purpose of the statutes they implement. The Refugee Act of 1980 states that it was passed to “respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands” and “to provide for effective resettlement and absorption” of refugees in the U.S. As DHS’s own Office of Refugee Resettlement notes, this includes assisting refugees “to achieve economic self-sufficiency as soon as possible after arrival in the United States.” 
  • The proposed regulations place an unrealistic burden on desperate refugees, forcing them to wait a year after seeking asylum before applying for a work permit, making them pay for “biometric data collection,” and making them attend a potentially distant collection point on a DHS-scheduled date.
  • The proposed regulations are unfair and unreasonable: they limit work permits to those who enter through ports of entry at the same time ports of entry are increasingly closed to refugees due to metering; they require that applicants must be in the United States when refugees are increasingly forced to stay outside the U.S. 
  • Although the new regulations claim that they only discourage work permits for those who file meritless asylum claims, they instead deliberately target those with meritorious claims: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will no longer be able to recommend asylum even in clear cases, and those refugees paroled after establishing a credible fear of persecution or torture lose the right to employment authorizations under 8 CFR § 274a.12(c)(11).
  • Taken as a whole, these changes make work permits discretionary and difficult to obtain, imposing arbitrary barriers to work permits in order to discourage refugees from seeking asylum in the U.S. 
  • Regulations are supposed to implement statutes, not overrule their purpose in practice. 

Submit your comment by January 13, 2020 by clicking on this link

Dean Gloster is a former clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court who now writes novels. His debut YA, DESSERT FIRST, is out now.

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