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“Catch and Release” Exposed as the GOP’s Big Lie on Asylum: 99% of Asylum-Seekers Show Up for Hearings

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The independent and highly-reputable TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) just released a new report — based on the government’s own data — that finds  99% of asylum-seekers who were released into America to pursue their cases attended all of their immigration court hearings.

The finding eviscerates the GOP’s Big Lie. They call it “catch and release” — a fishing term intended to dehumanize asylum-seekers and paint them as people who abuse the system. Contrary to their repeated claims, asylum-seekers released to their families in America do not abscond, they show up.  

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

The Trump administration has gutted our nation’s asylum system by executive fiat, and done so based on a lie. 

Under the direction of Stephen Miller, DHS has mounted a cruel and relentless campaign to deter asylum-seekers and done so by going around rather than through Congress. The entire project is premised on the claim of “catch and release” — the assertion that letting asylum-seekers into America so they can be with family, prepare their asylum applications properly, and show up at their court hearings means they don’t show up and they melt into the population.

In the name of “catch and release,” this administration has separated families in what amounts to child kidnapping; expanded detention in squalid conditions and in private-for-profit jails to unprecedented levels; so mistreated children and adults in their custody that 27 people have died on their watch; pressured adjudicators to deny asylum by imposing quotas, inserting hardline supervisors, and restricting eligibility criteria; forced tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in dangerous cities in norther Mexico for months, where many are subject to rape, robbery and kidnapping; and begun sending asylum-seekers to countries such as Guatemala and Honduras that generate refugees and have no functioning asylum system.

The new TRAC data reveals that the entire effort to dismantle asylum is based on lies and deception. 

We don’t need to gut asylum, keep vulnerable people in detention, and subvert due process. We don’t need to keep people in life-threatening conditions — whether in detention centers in America, in subhuman conditions in northern Mexico, or in dangerous countries that cannot protect their own citizens. 

We need to respect our law that views asylum as a legal right. We need to ensure a fair and efficient process, complete with family support, legal assistance and case management systems. We need to work with rather than bully our neighbors to devise a regional strategy for safe haven and resettlement opportunities. And we need to invest in the source countries in order to mitigate, over time, the violence and societal breakdown that spurs out-migration.

For many, asylum is a matter of life and death. Long-established as a principle in U.S. and international law, requesting asylum and having it fairly adjudicated is a legal right. Under international norms that America fought for, under the principle of non-refoulement (no return), those fleeing danger should never be sent back to conditions that risk their lives. 

As a nation, we used to point to the Statue of Liberty as a proud symbol of our tradition of welcome. Now we must confront the fact that, under this administration, we are a nation that shuts out refugees and turns back asylum-seekers with a cruelty that is unprecedented. 

The Mother of Exiles weeps.

For a more in-depth look at the details and implications of the Trump Administration’s ongoing efforts to restrict due process and a fair chance for asylum seekers, read the recent DHS Watch analysis from Ur Jaddou, “No Break for Growing Humanitarian Crisis and Violence Against Asylum Seekers at Southern Border Due to Trump Policies.”