Trump proposes charging fees for immigrants to apply for asylum

A group of evangelical pastors pray with a group of 22 migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and Salvador underneath the Paso Del Norte Bridge where they are being held for processing in El Paso, Texas, on March 28, 2019.
A group of evangelical pastors pray with a group of 22 migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and Salvador underneath the Paso Del Norte Bridge where they are being held for processing in El Paso, Texas, on March 28, 2019. | Christ Chavez/Getty Images

President Trump issued a memo Monday proposing changes to asylum policies that would, among other things, require migrants coming to the U.S. to pay fees for asylum and work permit applications.

Trump’s presidential memorandum calls on acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr to propose changes that will better protect the “integrity of our asylum system” and respond to the humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border.

The memorandum directly responds to what Trump says are “loopholes” in U.S. immigration law that allow immigrants claiming asylum out of fear of reprisals if they return home to be released into communities throughout the U.S.

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The White House contends that many immigrants claiming fear fail to show up to court hearings, don’t file asylum applications, and refuse to comply with removal orders.

In a news release, the White House said that about half of immigrants making fear claims who are placed in removal proceedings do not apply for asylum.

“The biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders is the use of fraudulent or meritless asylum claims to gain entry into our great country,” Trump said in a statement.

The president is calling for changes that will streamline court proceedings for immigrants who pass initial fear determinations, adjudicate asylum applications within 180 days of filing, and require that fees be paid for asylum and work permit applications.

The president’s proposed changes would also bar immigrants who entered or attempted to enter the country illegally from receiving work permits before being approved for relief. The change would also revoke work permits for immigrants who have received final removal orders.

Trump’s memorandum also calls on the secretary of Homeland Security to reprioritize immigration officer assignments to “improve the integrity of credible fear adjudications, strengthen law enforcement, and enforce removal orders from immigration judges.”

The White House contends that immigrants with meritless asylum claims have taken advantage of the U.S. asylum system to enter the country illegally and remain in the U.S.

The memorandum is also another attempt by Trump to toughen U.S. immigration policy without an act of Congress reforming what has been described by many as a broken immigration system.

Trump’s plan was criticized by some who feel that the proposal would make it harder for people seeking asylum to escape dangers in their home country. The fear is that the proposed policy would not only cost impoverished asylum seekers money to apply but also could limit their access to work permits before asylum is granted.

“Trump isn’t wrong that we have a problem at the border, and he’s not wrong to try to fix it. But charging a fee to those fleeing violence and claiming asylum is a terrible solution,” wrote columnist Erin Dunne of the conservative newspaper Washington Examiner.

“Charging a fee for asylum claims has deeper problems than the Trump administration's usual lack of respect for separation of powers. The right to seek asylum, as written into international law in the aftermath of World War II and incorporated into U.S. federal law, is meant to protect that fleeing persecution or violence in their home country.”

Dunne notes that charging a fee sends the idea that “only those with a certain degree of financial means can be considered” for asylum. She added that such a policy would “leave those most in need of protection unable to make their claims.”

In its 2019 annual report released Monday, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom explained that DHS officials have, over the course of the last decade plus, failed to follow required procedures to identify asylum seekers. Additionally, USCIRF warns that “unaddressed flaws” in the asylum system have placed even more asylum seekers at risk of “erroneous return.”

USCIRF called on the Trump administration to appoint a high-level official to coordinate refuge and asylum issues and oversee reforms. USCIRF also called on Congress to request that the Government Accountability Office assess whether noncitizens returned to their home countries under expedited removal have faced persecution and torture upon their return.  

In February, Trump issued a national emergency in order to circumvent Congress and shift funding for additional border security.

While conservative evangelical leaders have been on board with the Trump administration’s policies relating to abortion and religious freedom, some have been outspoken against many of the administration's policies pertaining to immigration and refugee resettlement.

Along with drastically lowering the number of refugees being resettled into the U.S. since 2017, the Trump administration also proposed a rule last year to give the Department of Homeland Security more discretion to deny visas and green cards to immigrants who would rely too heavily on public assistance.

A group of evangelical leaders at the time issued a statement saying that such a policy would allow government employees to deny “applications for family reunification and other lawful immigrant visas based on the suspicion that an individual might someday apply for public benefits.”

Evangelical leaders also spoke out against the Trump administration’s plan to cut humanitarian aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Trump threatened last year to cut off humanitarian aid to those countries because they “were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.”

Despite evangelical leaders speaking out against Trump’s immigration policies, polls indicate that white evangelicals largely support Trump’s immigration policies.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of white evangelical Christians say that Trump’s handling of the illegal immigration issue makes them more likely to support Trump’s re-election in 2020.

Just 16 percent of white evangelicals said Trump’s handling of illegal immigration has made them more likely to oppose Trump’s re-election in 2020, and 20 percent said that Trump’s handling of illegal immigration is not a factor for them.

By comparison, 44 percent of Americans said that Trump’s handling of illegal immigration makes them more likely to oppose his re-election, while 31 percent said it makes them more likely to support Trump’s re-election.

Last year, Public Religion Research Institute data found that white evangelicals were the only religious demographic in the U.S. in which a majority views immigrants as a “threat” to American values and sees the country’s increasing racial diversity as a bad thing.

Last week, evangelical leaders affiliated with the Evangelical Immigration Table released a book outlining what they say is a “biblical view” of immigration.

The leaders favor increased border security but at the same time calls for the U.S. government to “provide a safe haven for refugees fleeing tyrannical governments or terrorist groups who are seeking to do them harm.”

“It’s a reason that U.S. asylum laws, which guide the government not to send someone back to a situation of danger, are so vital,” the book explains.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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