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On Call, Advocates Discuss Suit to Protect Asylum Seekers’ Ability to Work

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A recording of the call is available here 


Two new immigration rules are set to take effect that would limit the ability for asylum seekers to apply for work authorization and obtain identification documents. Immigrant rights’ organizations CASA, the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Centro Legal de la Raza, Oasis Legal Services, and Pangea Legal Services filed a federal lawsuit to stop the U.S. government from implementing new rules that would limit the ability of asylum seekers to work legally in the United States. The case is being heard in the District of Maryland, where it was filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), ASAP, and the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, LLP. Following a hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction, attorneys and plaintiffs joined to discuss this lawsuit and how these new rules will impact asylum seekers if they go into effect.  

The government’s decision to overhaul this system was done without consideration of the impact it will have on asylum seekers and their local communities. The new rules will take away asylum seekers’ ability to work legally and obtain identification documents. They will also greatly overburden social services organizations who will be forced to deal with increased homelessness, hunger, inadequate healthcare, and labor exploitation in the middle of a pandemic.

Kathryn Austin, Staff Attorney, International Refugee Assistance Project, said, “The Trump Administration is irrationally and without authority upending the work authorization system that has enabled asylum seekers to survive in this country while pursuing protection from persecution. Congress passed the Administrative Procedure Act to require agencies to make policy in a way that is reasoned, informed, and accountable to the public. In issuing these rules, the agency engaged in the very abuse Congress prohibited in the APA.”

Zachary Manfredi, Staff Attorney, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, said, “We are proud to stand with asylum seekers and other legal aid providers in taking the Department of Homeland Security to court and challenging the latest in a series of attacks on asylum seekers. The DHS Secretary vacancy is now the longest lasting cabinet level vacancy in modern history, at nearly 500 days. The Trump Administration must remain accountable to Congress and the people, and we are confident in our claim that Chad Wolf lacked authority to issue these cruel and unjust rules.”

Caroline Roberts, Executive Director, Oasis Legal Services, said, “Oasis has won asylum for hundreds of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers with a 99% success rate,” Caroline Kornfield Roberts, Executive Director of Oasis Legal Services. “Yet, these new rules could bar work authorization for more than 80% of our clients while they potentially wait years for a decision in their case. LGBTQ+ asylum seekers have already suffered severe persecution, toxic homophobia, and deep trauma in their countries of origin. They should not be forced to remain in the shadows and in the closet.”

Nick Katz, Senior Manager for Legal Services, CASA, said, “These rules that are scheduled to go into effect are consistent with the attacks against our community that we have seen during this administration, including attempts to terminate DACA, attempts to terminate TPS, and other forms of humanitarian relief. Our immigration system is broken. Instead of trying to repair it, the Trump administration is seeking to use it as a weapon against immigrant communities. We are proud to stand up and fight against these rules with our co-plaintiffs, as well as our counsel, ASAP and IRAP, and look forward to winning a victory in this case.” 

Julia Hiatt, Managing Attorney, Centro Legal de la Raza, said, “Centro Legal strongly opposes USCIS’s new rules aimed at making it more difficult for asylum seekers to obtain authorization to work. If the rules are permitted to go into effect, asylum seekers will be prohibited from working lawfully for at least one year,” said Julia Hiatt, Centro Legal de la Raza’s Immigrants’ Rights Managing Attorney. “Given the years-long backlog of the Asylum Office and Immigration Court, our clients and their families will suffer as they wait for permission to work while their asylum petitions are pending. For some asylum seekers, the new rules will not just delay but preclude them from being authorized to work at all. These new rules cruelly punish immigrants who have fled grave danger in their home countries and force them to remain dependent upon others and in poverty while they wait for the United States immigration system to hear their claims.”