You’ve heard the stories: thousands of immigrants are trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and flee their native countries, seeking asylum in the land of the free.
They’re leaving their country not by choice, but by necessity. Many of these people come from Latin-American countries facing unimaginable obstacles, from corruption to poverty or high crime rates. They look towards the U.S. and hope, regardless of what attitude the current administration has shown immigrants in the past, that they’ll be granted asylum. But what is it and who can qualify for it?
Legal Definition and Eligibility
According to a immigration law firm, asylum is a form a protection a country can offer a foreign national who can prove they cannot return to their motherland for a few reasons outlined by the U.S. and international laws.
An individual has to prove they have suffered or will suffer persecution in their native country based on various factors to qualify for it, such as:
- Membership to a social group;
- Political opinion.
For instance, a Russian national who identifies as LGBT+ may ask for U.S. asylum, claiming that if they return to their native country, they will either be arrested or harassed, because it is currently illegal to be gay there (while in the U.S. it is not).
The same principle applies to those fleeing authoritative political regimes, war zones, and similar circumstances. U.S. immigration law states that a person who receives asylum can legally remain on U.S. territory without the fear of being deported.
Changes Under the Current Administration
Trump’s immigration views became apparent during his campaign when the infamous idea of a “wall” that would prevent Mexican and other immigrants to cross the southern border was first revealed to the public. Once installed, his administration has continued to push for harsher immigration laws.
One such instance occurred in June, when Jeff Sessions excluded domestic violence victims as pertaining to the social group category, thus eliminating them from asylum eligibility. As such, victims feeling domestic violence can no longer apply for asylum under the new regulation.
Then, in November, President Trump also instituted a new rule that forces asylum seekers to apply for status only through official ports of entry but was later dismissed by a federal judge on the basis that it was contradicting the existing law. Asylum seekers can still apply for status even if they enter between ports of entry.
However, it’s not to say things are going smoothly at the ports of entry. Officers are reportedly preventing people from applying for asylum by stopping them before they reach the border. Migrants are forced to wait on Mexican soil arguing that lack of resources at the ports cannot allow but a few processed applications each day.
And while people wait near the border, the Trump administration is negotiating a new deal with Mexico that would force asylum seekers to remain in their native country while their application is processed, a decision that completely goes against the principles on which the entire asylum process was established.
It is critical for migrants applying for asylum to be allowed to remain in the country reviewing their application throughout this process. The U.S. cannot guarantee the safety of a Mexican nationals if they are forced to stay in the country they have to flee because of fear of prosecution.
In a way, the Trump administration is staying true to its words: it’s actively trying to reduce the number of people coming into the country. These changes in asylum eligibility are meant to prevent those trying to cheat the system and get permanent residence on U.S. soil.
However, it’s unclear how these new provisions can accomplish that. Most likely, they will have a negative impact on the people genuinely trying to escape a life of fear in their native countries.