Attorney General Becerra Leads Coalition Blasting Latest Federal Proposal Undermining Rights of Asylum-Seekers

Monday, January 13, 2020
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

One in Five Asylum Cases Pending Review Are in California 

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal today led a coalition of 21 attorneys general in filing a comment letter opposing a Trump Administration proposal that would significantly limit timely access to work permits for asylum-seekers. The proposed rule would arbitrarily extend waiting periods, needlessly introduce uncertainty into the process, and eliminate access to work permits entirely for a large proportion of asylum-seekers. The Trump Administration’s proposal, which would directly harm California’s communities, ignores the vital economic contributions of immigrants throughout the country. At least 15,000 asylum-seekers served by federal offices in California could be affected by this rule each year.

“In California, we embrace the contributions of immigrants living in our state,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Trump Administration, on the other hand, continues to introduce arbitrary hoops and hurdles that prevent people fleeing violence and persecution from being able to provide for themselves or their families. This proposal is cruel and legally questionable at best. Today, we’re calling on the federal government to rescind this latest proposed attack on the asylum process.”

Delaying and denying access to work permits keeps asylum-seekers and their families from becoming self-sufficient while awaiting adjudication of their cases, potentially making it more difficult to adjust to life in the United States. Under the current system, asylum-seekers can apply for a work permit if their asylum application has been pending for 150 days. Under this proposal, the Trump Administration is seeking to more than double the waiting period to 365 days.

According to the federal government’s own estimates, this delay would result in up to $815.9 million in lost wages and up to $125 million in lost tax revenue nationwide each year. Those estimates do not include the losses associated with blocking many asylum-seekers from obtaining work permits entirely. The federal government’s proposal ignores many of the harms the proposed rule would cause to asylum-seekers and states. For instance, by being unable to legally work, the proposal threatens to push asylum-seekers and their families to the fringes of society by making them more likely to seek work through exploitative employers in the underground economy.

In 2019, one in five of the more than 327,000 affirmative asylum cases pending review with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services nationwide were pending out of federal offices in California. According to the most recent federal data available, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ offices in California generally receive more than 1,400 affirmative asylum applications each month. Overall, immigrant households contribute billions of dollars in state and local taxes every year and play an integral role in ensuring the success of California’s economy.

The proposed rule is the latest attempt by the Trump Administration to create artificial barriers to deter asylum-seekers. In addition to the new waiting requirements, applicants will no longer be able to have work authorization should they appeal their asylum cases in federal court, a process that can take several years. Moreover, except in limited circumstances, applicants who do not enter the country through a port of entry or have resided in the United States for more than a year would now be summarily denied access to a work permit. In so doing, the Trump Administration is undermining the right to seek asylum as provided by Congress in the Refugee Act of 1980.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra has consistently fought to defend the rights of asylum-seekers in California and across the country. Last year, Attorney General Becerra co-led a coalition of attorneys general in opposition to an earlier Trump Administration proposal to limit access to work permits for asylum-seekers. He also pushed back against an illegal rule attempting to force asylum-seekers to apply for protection in countries they travel through prior to arriving in the United States. In May 2019, the Attorney General led a multistate coalition in support of a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s efforts to prevent those who have not entered the country at a port of entry from applying for asylum. Early last year, Attorney General Becerra fought back against the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s practice of denying people access to the asylum process through misrepresentations, threats and intimidation, coercion, and verbal and physical abuse.

Joining Attorney General Becerra in filing the comment letter are the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington, and Vermont.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

# # #