Attorney General Becerra Leads Coalition in Opposing Trump Administration Effort to Upend Existing Asylum System

Thursday, July 16, 2020
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Proposal will exacerbate trauma for survivors of gender, gang, and homophobic violence

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today led a coalition of 23 attorneys general in filing a comment letter opposing the Trump Administration’s proposal to make several significant changes to the asylum system that would effectively nullify the meaningful right to apply for protection in the United States. By severely restricting asylum eligibility and eliminating several procedural protections, the proposed rule will result in the deportation of bona fide asylum seekers who are certain to face persecution or torture in their home countries.

“The Trump Administration continues to rip the rug out from under asylum seekers as they attempt to escape the horrors back home and build a better life for themselves and their families,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Instead of allowing asylum seekers a fair chance to make their case in court, this inhumane proposal sets impossible standards with the sole goal of making it easier to deny applications. We urge the Trump Administration to follow the law and withdraw this cruel proposal.”

In the comment letter, the coalition argues that the proposed rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act, and would make it all but impossible for asylum seekers to secure protection. For example, the coalition highlights that the proposed rule would explicitly deny claims — such as those based on gender, or opposition to a terrorist or organized criminal groups — that district courts have previously recognized as valid bases for asylum. The categorial exemptions of these claims is also problematic, as each claim must be considered on an individual basis. 

Moreover, the proposed rule contains several substantive changes to the asylum process that would effectively block most current and future applicants from receiving protections. For instance, the rule lists “significantly adverse” discretionary factors that would provide a basis for unilaterally denying even meritorious asylum applications. Some of those discretionary factors would end up barring asylum-seekers who do not seek protection from a country through which they traveled or for failing to enter with inspection through a port of entry. Courts have previously held that relying on such factors in making asylum determinations violates the law. Moreover, the proposal applies discretionary factors to unaccompanied children, making them more likely to be denied asylum and undermining procedural protections meant to avoid traumatizing children. In fact, the proposed rule would change the process so substantively that it could lead to the termination of asylum cases before they even reach a judge.

Attorney General Becerra remains committed to fighting for the rights of hard-working immigrants in California and across the country. Last week, the Attorney General filed suit against the Trump Administration's unlawful policy on student visas that threaten to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 in schools across the country. Earlier this year, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 19 attorneys general in an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in U.T. v. Barr, who are challenging the Trump Administration’s actions to undermine asylum protections. The Attorney General also led the fight to protect Dreamers before the U.S. Supreme Court, securing a landmark decision upholding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. Earlier, he blasted the Trump Administration for moving the goalpost on asylum eligibility and fought back against a proposal that would prevent asylum-seekers and their families from becoming self-sufficient while awaiting adjudication of their cases. In 2019, the Attorney General led a multistate comment letter condemning the interim final rule on asylum cooperative agreements. Attorney General Becerra also filed a lawsuit in opposition to a rule circumventing protections for children under the Flores Settlement Agreement, which was permanently  blocked by a federal court in September of 2019.

In sending the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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