Immigrant advocates slam Trump asylum changes

Claim president can’t change a law with a regulation

IT’S INHUMANE. It’s a violation of international law. It’s not the way things have worked since the mid-1960s. These were the arguments of immigration advocates following last week’s announcement by the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice that rules for claiming asylum in the US would be changing.

Sarah Sherman-Stokes, associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Clinic at Boston University Law School, and Susan Church, a partner at the immigration law firm Demissie & Church in Cambridge, say the most massive asylum overhaul since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 is also doing away with due process rights and the governmental rule of separation of powers.

Under the new regulations, an applicant seeking asylum in the US must be denied refuge in each country along the way to the American border.

“It’s blatantly illegal,” said Church on The Codcast. “You cannot change a law that Congress enacted with a regulation that isn’t passed by elected members of Congress.”

Sherman-Stokes added that President Trump could be overreaching his job description. “Trying to change a law with a regulation — this is illegal,” she said, adding that “it flies in the face of our understanding of our separation of powers.”

Sherman-Stokes said the asylum changes have “tentacles” that reach across the country, including significant impact in Massachusetts. One of her clients has a 10-year-old boy making his way to the US border while his mother and siblings wait safely in Massachusetts.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California, arguing that the new regulation is “part of an unlawful effort to significantly undermine, if not virtually repeal, the US asylum system,” and didn’t go through a public process. The suit is asking a district court judge to place a temporary restraining order on the new regulations so they can’t be implemented.

Church and Sherman-Stokes say the ACLU will be successful in proving a violation of existing law by showcasing the “illegal” additional limits on asylum. Their main concern is that, while the injunction is being pursued, many of the 18,000-plus asylum seekers at the border will be subjected to an unlawful standard.

“They have been instructed to apply ‘credible fear interviews’ before the person even sees a judge,” said Sherman-Stokes.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The credible fear interview is a preliminary interview asylum seekers have with US Citizenship and Immigration Services officers, where they attempt to demonstrate that they have a credible fear of returning to their home country if their asylum claim is rejected. The interview is often not conducted in the asylum seeker’s own language. Under the new rules, interviewers will disqualify anyone who has gone through another country by foot and not been rejected for asylum in that country.

“These are countries that are not safe. There’s no way you’re going to obtain a full and fair procedure on your asylum claim because, by the time they’re done, you might be dead,” Church said.