On June 15, the Trump administration proposed regulations that attempt to eviscerate the asylum system, making it nearly impossible for people fleeing persecution to be granted humanitarian relief in the United States. These regulations radically depart from the statutory and internationally accepted refugee definition and impose new bars to asylum. The regulations would also worsen already problematic screening processes at the border and foreclose protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) to many with legitimate fears of torture.
Some of the most troubling changes in the regulation include:
(1) A new definition of persecution, requiring harms be so “severe that they constitute an exigent threat.” This would be devastating for applicants, such as LGBTQ+ individuals, whose claims of persecution sometimes center on nonphysical harms, like severe threats and other forms of psychological torment.
(2) A redefinition of the protected grounds in the refugee definition. For example, a refugee might qualify for asylum because they were persecuted on account of their political opinion, but the new regulations redefine “political opinion” only to include opinions that directly relate to the political control of a government. An asylum seeker who faced persecution for defending gender equality, LGBTQ+ equality, or environmentalism would not qualify under this new definition.
(3) Limiting what it means to be persecuted on account of “membership in a particular social group,” departing from years of agency and circuit court precedent and making it far harder for asylum seekers fleeing gangs to qualify for protection.
(4) Categorically eliminating asylum claims based on persecution on account of gender, even if the persecution is pervasive. The regulations also bar any evidence that supports an asylum claim if it is seen as a “pernicious cultural stereotype,” such as the prevalence of “machismo,” often believed to be an underlying cause of gender-based violence.
However, many claims won’t even get that far, as the rule would allow immigration judges to dismiss asylum applications without a hearing if they determine the written application doesn’t show a meritorious claim on its face. This is proposed even though a large number of applicants are unrepresented, and, therefore, likely do not know the particulars of the highly complicated U.S. asylum and protection laws. It also codifies a laundry list of measures the administration has been using to block asylum seekers from accessing their rights, by, among other changes, barring asylum for most refugees who traveled through other countries by land en route to the U.S., a concept that was rejected by federal courts across the U.S. in the past week.
This proposed regulation only serves to solidify the Trump administration’s intention to deny protection to those who would seek it in the United States. The public only has until July 15th at 11:59pm to submit comments on these proposed regulations and various organizations have created comment templates and resources to aid in this process. Please join us in submitting a comment and expressing solidarity with refugees.
This post was written by HIRC summer intern Sarah Rosenthal.