As you probably know, the Trump Administration recently proposed regulations to make it much more difficult to obtain asylum in the United States. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is something you can do to try to reduce the damage: Submit a comment opposing the regulation. Submitting a comment is easy, free, and safe, even for people with no lawful status in the U.S. You can do it from the comfort of your own home. Right now. And best of all, it really can help. Here, we’ll talk about how to submit an effective comment.
Before we get to that, let’s talk a bit about the proposed regulation, which you can see here. The purpose of this regulation (and every regulation) is to interpret the law, as created by Congress. Regulations are created by government agencies (in our case, by the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review) because agencies have specialized knowledge about how to implement (or in our case, subvert) the law. The regulations cannot violate the law or they will be invalidated by courts. Also, regulations cannot be “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning the agency must provide a rational reason for the regulation. While there is a lot of bad stuff in the proposed regulation, I wanted to focus here on the points that people might be most interested to comment about–
- The definition of “particular social group” is narrowed, so that it is more difficult to get asylum if you fear harm from gang members or criminals, or based on domestic violence or an interpersonal dispute
- The definition of “political opinion” is narrowed to exclude people who have a generalized opposition to criminals or terrorists
- The level of harm required to demonstrate “persecution” is increased, and so asylum applicants will need to show a “severe level of harm”
- The categories of people eligible for asylum are reduced, and people who fear persecution on account of “gender” are excluded from asylum
- The new rule encourages decision-makers to deny otherwise-eligible applicants based on “discretion” and lists several “significant adverse discretionary factors,” including–
- unlawful entry into the U.S. or use of fraudulent documents
- the failure to seek protection in any third country the alien “transited” through, unless that country denied protection to the alien, the alien was a victim of human trafficking or the country was not a party to the Refugee Convention of 1951, the Protocol of 1967 or the United Nations Convention Against Torture
- remained unlawfully in the U.S. for more than one year before seeking asylum
- failed to file or pay taxes, if required
- failed to report income to the IRS (i.e., worked without authorization and did not pay tax – this one will be a particular problem if the plan to delay and deny work permits for asylum seekers goes into effect)
- Otherwise-eligible applicants will be denied asylum as a matter of discretion where they spent more than 14 days in a third country before coming to the U.S. or where they transited through more than one third country before coming to the U.S. (there are some exceptions to this rule, similar to those listed for the prior bullet point about “transit” through a third country)
- Applicants will be denied asylum where they “either resided or could have resided in any permanent legal immigration status or any non-permanent, potentially indefinitely renewable legal immigration status… in a country through which the alien transited prior to arriving in or entering the United States, regardless of whether the alien applied for or was offered such status”
- Torture Convention relief is not available where the torturer is a “rogue” official
- Finally, it is not clear, but as the regulations are written, they could be applied to people who already have asylum cases pending. Obviously, this would be unfair, as it would punish applicants for choices they made years ago (if the rules are applied retroactively, they might very well be blocked by a legal challenge)
If there are things here you don’t like, you can comment about them. How to do that?
First, go to this web page, where the proposed regulations are posted. If you look in the upper right part of the page, you will see a dark blue box that says “Comment Now!” Click on that, and you will be taken to a page where you can type your comment. If you want to be fancy, you can even attach files to your comment. You also have to type a name. You can type your own name, but you can also write “anonymous.” The name you type will be included when the comment is posted publicly. There is an option to include your contact information, but this information will not be displayed publicly. Once you are done, check the box indicating that you “read and understand” your statement and hit “Submit Comment.” That’s it. Easy peasy.
While you are on the regulation web page, you can look to see what other people wrote (on the right side of the page). When I last checked, there were more than 1,300 comments.
What should you say?
It is best to write an individualized statement, rather than use a pre-made template. If you are an asylum applicant, maybe think about any parts of the new regulation that might harm you and explain how you will be harmed. You might also write about why you chose to seek asylum in the U.S. (if, indeed, you had a choice) and what is your impression of the U.S. asylum system. Remember, as an asylum applicant, you have something important to say and your voice should be part of this conversation. One important point: All comments must be submitted prior to 11:59 PM Eastern time on July 15, 2020. Also, if you post a comment, and you don’t mind, please cut and paste what you write into the comments section of this blog (below).
If you’d like some additional advice about what to write, check out these postings by Tahirih Justice Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), or just read the comments already posted on the regulation. The federal government also provides general, but helpful, advice about writing a comment.
Finally, you might ask, Does posting a comment matter?
Apparently, it does. According to AILA, “The administration will review and address those comments before the rule becomes finalized, so it is critical for us to submit as many unique comments as possible.” More comments = a longer review process. This will buy more time before these draconian new rules are implemented. Also, the “government gives more weight to each comment if it is unique from others,” and so it is important to personalize your submission.
Since its inception, the Trump Administration has been waging war against the rule of law in our country. Immigrants and asylum seekers have always been the first target in this war, but they are far from the only target. In this particular battle, asylum seekers have a crucial role to play, and so I hope you will consider making a comment in opposition to the proposed regulations. Together, we can protect our asylum system and our country.