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As NBC News previously reported, leading white nationalist advisor Stephen Miller has long pushed for restricting access to a fair asylum hearing and pressuring judges and other government personnel to deny more asylum-seekers’ claims. The same NBC piece also quoted from a National Security Council official and Miller ally summing up the Trump administration’s philosophy: “My mantra has persistently been presenting aliens with multiple unsolvable dilemmas to impact their calculus for choosing to make the arduous journey to begin with.”
With this as a reminder of the Trump administration’s larger motivations, a new piece in The Daily Beast, “Here’s Why the Rejection Rate for Asylum Seekers Has Exploded in America’s Largest Immigration Court in NYC,” offers a disturbing look at what’s happening in New York City to asylum-seekers – just one example of the larger effort to restrict asylum underway. See key excerpts below:
The rate of asylum petitions denied in New York City’s busy immigration court has shot up about 17 times faster than in the rest of the country during the Trump administration’s crackdown—and still Ana was there, a round-faced Honduran woman with a black scarf wrapped turban-like over her hair, a look of fright crossing her dark eyes as the judge asked if she faced danger in her home country.
Her eyes darted over to her helper, a Manhattan lighting designer with New Sanctuary Coalition volunteers to offer moral support—she couldn’t find a lawyer to take her case for free. Then Ana turned back to the judge, or rather, to the video screen that beamed him in from Virginia, and whispered to the court interpreter in Spanish: “My spouse and my son were killed.” Tears welled in her eyes as she said a notorious transnational gang had carried out the slaying.
…But New York’s golden door is slamming shut for far more asylum seekers than in the past, especially for women like Ana.
The asylum denial rate in the New York City immigration court rose from 15 percent in fiscal year 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, to 44 percent in fiscal year 2019, which ended Sept. 30. The rest of the country, excluding New York, has been relatively stable, with denials going from 69 percent to 74 percent.
…Judge Jeffrey L. Menkin, who presided in Ana’s case via video hookup, began hearing cases in March. He is based in Falls Church, Virginia, the home of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that runs the immigration courts. He’d been a Justice Department lawyer since 1991, including the previous 12 years as senior counsel for national security for the Office of Immigration Litigation.
Menkin can see only a portion of his New York courtroom on his video feed and as a result, he didn’t realize a Daily Beast reporter was present to watch him conduct an asylum hearing for a Guatemalan woman—we’ll call her Gloria—and her three young children, who were not present.
…Gloria continued to cry; the DHS lawyer asked that she be given a tissue. The government lawyer’s cross-examination was comparatively gentle, but she questioned why Gloria didn’t move elsewhere within Guatemala and seek police protection. “He would find out before I even arrived at the police station,” she said of the man she feared. And, she added, “They’re always going to investigate and as for always being on the run, that’s no life for my kids.”
In closing arguments, Gloria’s lawyer said his client had testified credibly and that she legitimately feared her tormentor’s influence. The DHS lawyer did not question Gloria’s credibility, but she said Gloria’s problem was personal, not political—that she could have moved to parts of Guatemala that were beyond the reach of the man’s political influence.
Judge Menkin then declared a 20-minute recess so that he could compose his decision. In the interim, the lawyers discovered that a man sitting in one corner of the small courtroom was a reporter and, when the judge returned to the bench to rule, so informed him. Immigration court hearings are generally open to the public. There are special rules for asylum cases, however. The court’s practice manual says they “are open to the public unless the respondent expressly requests that they be closed.” “Oh, Jesus Christ!” Menkin shouted at the lawyers when he learned a reporter had been present for the hearing. “Don’t you people look around the room? What’s the matter with you?”
After the judge expressed his alarm, the reporter was ejected with Gloria’s tearful assent, and so the basis for Judge Menkin’s ruling on Gloria’s asylum petition is not known. The outcome is, though: denied, 30 days to appeal.