Over the past week, the Trump administration continued its efforts to dismantle immigration and refugee programs that reflect long-held American values. The policy changes, summarized below, include a draft regulation that makes it more difficult for those fleeing violence and persecution to apply for refugee status; an overhaul of policy that makes it less likely eligible immigrants will come forward to apply for legal status, and could lead to victims of trafficking and abuse being deported; unexplained discharges of immigrants from the military; and feet-dragging and blame-shifting from the administration regarding its inability to swiftly reunite families they separated in the first place.
“Severe Restrictions” on Asylum
According to a regulation obtained by Vox:
The Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is drafting a plan that would totally overhaul asylum policy in the United States.
Under the plan, people would be barred from getting asylum if they came into the US between ports of entry and were prosecuted for illegal entry. It would also add presumptions that would make it extremely difficult for Central Americans to qualify for asylum, and codify — in an even more restrictive form — an opinion written by Sessions in June that attempted to restrict asylum for victims of domestic and gang violence.
One source familiar with the asylum process but not authorized to speak on the record described the proposed changes as “the most severe restrictions on asylum since at least 1965” — when the law that created the current legal immigration system was passed — and “possibly even further back.”
Prioritizing Victims of Crime and Abuse for Deportation
On Thursday, USCIS issued a policy that will result in prioritizing for deportation many more cases that were previously very low level priorities for good reason. Under the new policy, USCIS will initiate deportation hearings for most of those denied an immigration request made to USCIS where the applicant, beneficiary, or requestor is removable and even where there is an appeal. There are no exceptions for people who who may be victims of trafficking, victims of abuse, or family members of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, deportation hearings will be initiated even where a denial is based on simple technical errors. As the Immigrant Legal Resource Center stated, this new policy will have a “chilling effect” on victims of trafficking and abuse seeking protection for fear of becoming a deportation priority. It would also chill efforts by U.S. citizens to regularize the status of family members. The American Immigration Lawyers Association stated, “The new guidance will have a chilling effect, discouraging people who are eligible for immigration benefits from applying out of fear that they will be tossed into the deportation machine if they are denied – even if that denial is due to an agency mistake.”
Purging Immigrants from the Military
According to the Associated Press this week, immigrants serving in the U.S. military under a program “aimed at bringing medical specialists and fluent speakers of 44 sought-after languages” are being “quietly” discharged with little explanation. These discharges are occuring in spite of a long history of foreign nationals honorably serving in the U.S. military — from the Revolutionary War to World War II to recent military actions in the Middle East. This, despite a recent RAND Corporation report that found, “immigrant recruits have been more cost-effective, outperforming their fellow soldiers in the areas of attrition, performance, education and promotions.”
The AP’s report on military discharges follows a Military Times report from May this year explaining that “[t]he number of service members applying for and earning U.S. citizenship through military service has dropped 65 percent.”
Family Separation Continues, Family Reunification Not So Much
The New York Times reported chaos in the government’s court-imposed effort to reunite families separated under the Trump Administration family separation policy: “Records linking children to their parents have disappeared, and in some cases have been destroyed, according to two officials of the Department of Homeland Security, leaving the authorities struggling to identify connections between family members.” Meanwhile, Trump administration officials continue to blame everyone but themselves for their family separation policy that “was announced with little advance notice and, apparently, little planning for how to deal with its far-reaching impacts.”
Deeply disturbing accounts of the trauma caused by the family separation policy continue to emerge:
Olivia Caceres separated from her 1-year-old son in November at a legal point of entry described her son’s state of mind after three months of separation: “After reuniting with her toddler, ‘he continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go. When I took off his clothes he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.’”
Ludin Jimenez, separated from her children, age 9 and 17, said: “[The children] did not have shoes or blankets in the detention center, and there were people in the cells that had to sleep standing up. They did not have enough to eat either, and could not drink the water, because of the chlorine they added to it … the incarcerated children were insulted – called named such as “animals” and “donkeys.”
Arnovis Guidos Portillo who was deported without his six-year-old daughter describes his daughter’s state of mind after finally being reunited in El Salvador one month later: “She’s traumatized and extremely anxious – she cried for an hour straight this morning and then again this afternoon. It scares me,” he says.
According to various reports, and despite a decade-long government effort to responsibly address potential cases where immigrants may have been naturalized under false identities, the Trump Administration is suddenly and very publicly launching a denaturalization office. If quiet, focused and effective efforts to protect the integrity of the citizenship process have been underway for nearly 10 years, why the sudden and public focus? Coming from an administration that seems intent on excluding and expelling as many immigrants and refugees as possible, this announcement does not bode well.