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United States law enshrines the protections of the international Refugee Convention, drafted in the wake of the horrors of World War II. The law provides that any person “physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States … irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum….” Since President Trump’s inauguration, the federal government has unleashed relentless attacks on the United States asylum system and those who seek safety on our shores. Internal memos have revealed these efforts to be concerted, organized, and implemented toward the goal of ending asylum in the United States as we know it. This timeline highlights the major events comprising the administration’s assault on asylum seekers.

 Event Policy Description and Status
July 2019
Asylum Ban 2.0 (barring migrants who cross through another country prior to arriving at the U.S. border from asylum eligibility)
  • The administration published an Interim Final Rule banning all people including children, who have traveled through another country to reach the United States from applying asylum.
  • Status: The rule is now fully in effect after the Supreme Court stayed a partial Restraining Order. A federal district court judge in California issued a Temporary Restraining Order on July 16, 2019 in California in East Bay Sanctuary Covenant et al. v. Trump, finding the ban to likely violate the asylum provisions of U.S. federal law and raising concerns regarding the administration's failure to allow for notice-and-comment rulemaking. The government appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which kept the injunction in place only with regard to the geographic region covered by the 9th Circuit (California and Arizona) and allowed the government to implement the rule across the rest of the southern border. On September 11th, the Supreme Court issued a decision allowing the ban to be fully implemented during the pendency of litigation.
All undocumented immigrants in the interior become targets for arrests and deportation through new Interim Final Rule expanding procedures that expedite deportation.
  • Pursuant to another major regulatory change implemented as an Interim Final Rule, any undocumented individual who cannot prove to have been continuously present in the U.S. for at least two years can be placed in a fast-track deportation process, without the opportunity to plead their case in front of an immigration judge or get the help of an attorney. Expedited removal proceedings do allow individuals to seek referral to an immigration court proceeding to seek asylum, but the program has been consistently criticized for officers' failure to identify legitimate asylum seekers, resulting in the return of many to harm.
  • Status: Because of its issuance as an Interim Final Rule, the expansion of expedited removal is already in place. A lawsuit challenging this inhumane rule was filed on August 6, 2019.
The Attorney General certifies yet another case to himself and further diminishes grounds of asylumMatter of L-E-A-
  • Attorney General Barr reversed yet another BIA decision, this time strictly limiting asylum eligibility for individuals targeted and harmed due to their family membership.
  • Status: This ruling effectively limits, or in some cases, eliminates, the possibility of even presenting a claim for asylum for individuals who are fleeing harm on the basis of their membership in a particular family.
New pilot program gives border patrol officers the authority to conduct credible fear interviews
  • Stephen Miller has been promoting the implementation and expansion of a pilot program that would allow CBP officers, rather than trained asylum officers working under USCIS supervision, to conduct credible fear interviews. Requiring asylum seekers, recently arrived and fleeing fresh trauma, to articulate their fear of return to uniformed CBP officers will certainly mean that many asylum seekers will be forcibly returned to harm and death.
  • Status: Unclear when this proposal will be formally implemented. Mark Morgan, Acting Chief of CBP, testified to Congress on July 2019 that CBP officers are currently undergoing training in order to conduct these types of interviews. 
The administration announces it has reached a deal with Guatemala to halt the flow of Central American migrants to the U.S.
  • In July the U.S. government announced it had reached an agreement with the government of Guatemala. Although the details are uncertain, the administration seems to consider the agreement to set the stage for a "safe third country" agreement that would require all asylum seekers arriving at the southern border who passed through Guatemala, other than Guatemalans, to be transferred to Guatemala to present an asylum claim there. The announcement of the agreement has prompted widespread condemnation in both countries, as it appears to constitute a back-door sealing of the southern border to asylum in the U.S. and would likely prompt an unmitigated political and humanitarian crisis in Guatemala, one of the most dangerous countries in the world
  • Status: Unclear whether or when the regulations and agreements necessary to implement this agreement will be finalized. 
May 2019
USCIS issues a memo attempting to undercut protections provided to unaccompanied children during the asylum process
  • The memo undermines the few but essential protections provided to unaccompanied children in their asylum proceedings, including exemption from the one-year filing deadline and non-adversarial asylum interviews with an asylum officer, by requiring immigration adjudicators to continually re-adjudicate a child's designation as unaccompanied. These new procedures undoubtedly impact children's ability to effectively access their right to asylum by stripping away protections specifically designed to reflect the vulnerability of children who arrive at a border alone.
  • Status: The memo became effective June 30, 2019. In August 2019, a federal district court issued a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting USCIS's implementation of the memo. 
April 2019
The White House releases a memo calling for regulations that would change asylum policies to be drafted within 90 days.
  • Such regulations would include adding fees to the asylum application and work permit application, precluding asylum seekers from working lawfully during their asylum proceedings, and placing a 180 day limit for cases to be completely adjudicated with an immigration court, among others. 
  • Status: The 90-day deadline was July 29, 2019. There are rumors that one DOJ regulation has been or will soon be sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review but the details of any pending rule are far from certain.
January 2019
Migrant Protection Persecution Protocols (MPP) a.k.a. "Remain in Mexico"
November 2018
Asylum Ban 1.0 (barring migrants who cross between ports from asylum eligibility)
September 2018
DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) attempt to dismantle the Flores settlement agreement and the Trafficking of Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) through the regulatory process
  • DHS and HHS both issued notices in the federal register of a proposed rule that would, among other things, allow for the indefinite detention of families, enable DHS to self-license family detention facilities, and undermine unaccompanied children's rights to a bond hearing. Despite receipt of more than 100,000 comments on the proposed rule, DHS and HHS proceeded to publish the rule in final form in August 2019, with few meaningful changes from the proposed rule. The publication marks the latest step in the administration's ongoing efforts to irreparably alter the Flores settlement, a binding court settlement providing protections and guidelines related to the timing and conditions of detention for migrant children.
  • Status: The final Flores rule was published on August 23, 2019 and will go into effect on October 22, 2019; litigation challenging the final rule is expected imminently.
Official "turn back" (or metering) policy executed by CBP is confirmed in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report about family separations
  • The OIG report stated that the practice of metering, which constitutes the turning-back of asylum seekers at ports of entry where they are forced to wait in haphazardly operated queues amounting to weeks or months of delay, had been a tactic used by CBP going back to 2016. This policy "compounds other longstanding border-wide tactics that CBP has implemented to prevent migrants from applying for asylum in the U.S., such as lies, intimidation, coercion, verbal abuse, physical force, outright denials of access, unreasonable delays, and threats—including the threat of family separation."
  • Status: Litigation challenging the legality of metering is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, where the judge has rejected the governments second attempt to dismiss the case (Al Otro Lado v. McAleenan).
June 2018
Then-Attorney General Sessions severely limits the availability of asylum for survivors of domestic violence and gang violence (Matter of A-B-)
  • Again utilizing his ability to certify BIA cases to himself, Sessions overruled Matter of A-B-effectively limiting the availability of asylum to most individuals fleeing gender-based violence or violence at the hands of gangs of gangs and making it easier for ICE counsel to argue for deportation
  • Status: In December 2018, a federal court issued a decision generally preventing the administration from implementing this and other policies. Recently, 21 state attorneys general filed an amicus brief in support of the court's decision. The next hearing date regarding the government's appeal has not yet been set. 
April 2018
The Department of Justice (DOJ) requires immigration court judges to comply with case quotas
  • Despite opposition from the National Association of Immigration Judges, this policy requires immigration judges to make final rulings on 700 cases per year (about three per day) with repercussions—either being sent to a different immigration court or termination—if they do not comply. With judges under pressure to rush through court proceedings, the policy threatens the ability of asylum seekers to properly prepare and present their case. 
  • Status: This policy went into effect in the fall of 2018. The combination of this and several other unprecedented policies have resulted in chaos in the immigration court system, including increasing the backlog crisis by 25 percent rather than cutting down the number of pending cases that continues to creep closer to one million
Attorney General Sessions introduces the "zero-tolerance" policy, triggering widespread family separations
  • The "zero tolerance" policy, announced by Sessions via memo, required that all arriving migrants, including asylum seekers, be referred to the DOJ for criminal prosecution for illegal entry or reentry. What resulted was the mass systemic separation of families, as parents were prosecuted and children were taken into custody, causing irreversible, life-long trauma to over 2,600 children. Subsequently revealed internal government memos show that this policy was explicitly intended to serve as a deterrence mechanism for asylum seekers. 
  • Status: Family separation is still happening on a mass scale despite an Executive Order in July 2018 that allegedly ended the zero-tolerance policy and despite a court order enjoining the practice (more than 900 separations in the year following the court order). Separations sometimes involve prosecutions but not always; in other cases the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cites vague and often unsubstantiated reasons such as the parent's criminal history, gang affiliations, or even medical issues such as HIV status as justification for separation. 
ICE, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) enter into an agreement to share information obtained from unaccompanied children amongst the three agencies, and inserting ICE into the approval process for reunification of unaccompanied children with sponsors. 
March 2018
Attorney General Jeff Sessions vacates decision in Matter of E-F-H-L-, eviscerating asylum seekers' due process rights in immigration court
  • In Matter of E-F-H-L-, Sessions utilized a provision of law that was used only sparingly under previous administrations to certify to himself and then overturn a decision of the administrative appellate body known as the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), eviscerating the rights of asylum seekers to testify on their own behalf before they can be denied asylum and/or deported. 
  • Status: In full force. Individual applicants may challenge the application of the case in the circuit courts of appeal, but for the vast majority of immigrants who are unrepresented, this option is far out of reach.
July 2017
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ends the Family Case Management Program, signaling a concerted policy of prolonged and indefinite detention of asylum seekers. 
  • The Family Case Management Program allowed some asylum seekers to remain in the community during their asylum proceedings while receiving case management services including referrals to legal and social services. The Trump administration terminated the policy for blatantly political reasons in April 2017, and subsequently unrolled a de facto policy of the prolonged and indefinite detention of asylum seekers—in violation of ICE's own policy directive requiring that the agency release asylum seekers on humanitarian parole if they have a sponsor and pose no community safety risk. By the summer of 2019, ICE's own data revealed it to be jailing approximately 9,000 immigrants who had already been found to have a credible or reasonable fear of persecution or torture.
  • Status: ICE is facing federal litigation for its systemic violation of its own parole guidance. In August 2018, a federal court in Damus v. McAleenan ordered ICE to resume individualized release considerations in five field offices, an order plaintiffs have had to go back to court to enforce. In Heredia-Mons v. McAleenanplaintiffs have produced evidence that only two of 130 cases out of the New Orleans ICE Field Office were granted in 2018. Both cases are ongoing. 
February 2017
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) raises the threshold for demonstrating credible fear in asylum interviews
  • This new guideline ordered asylum officers to be stricter in assessing claims of fear made during "credible fear interviews," the threshold interview that is required before an asylum seeker is allowed to present their claim to an immigration judge. Immigration law experts warned that the heightened standards would result in erroneous deportations of asylum seekers back to harm or death.
  • Status: The implementation of this policy quickly resulted in a high rate of denials, causing a significant rise in deportations of those with meritorious asylum claims they were never permitted to present fully. 
January 2017
Trump issues Executive Order 13767, "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements"
  • The Executive Order, which was issued along with a parallel Executive Order focusing on immigration policies in the interior of the United States, put forth a blueprint for many of the anti-asylum and anti-immigrant policies the administration has implemented since, including the construction of a border wall, the increased and prolonged jailing of asylum seekers, and the increased use of expedited deportation procedures.
  • Status: implementation is ongoing. Many of these policies, including expanded expedited case processing and the prolonged detention of asylum seekers, have already been actualized.

 

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Last updated: September 2019.