Trump Admin. Cracks Down on Asylum Abuse

New order streamlines application process

A family from El Salvador is pictured walking to turn themselves into Border Patrol agents / Getty Images
April 30, 2019

President Donald Trump on Monday night signed a new presidential memorandum aimed at shoring up the security of America's asylum system.

The changes Trump called for, which administration officials now have 90 days to implement, are meant as a response to what the president has repeatedly labeled a "crisis" at the southwestern border.

"In recent days, the Trump Administration has taken aggressive action to crack down on illegal immigration, visa overstays, and benefits fraud. This Presidential Memorandum is part of the Administration's continuing effort to turn the tide on our nation's immigration crisis and we're just getting started with more actions to come," an administration official told the Free Beacon.

Under the law, individuals apprehended attempting to illegally cross the southwestern border can in theory be deported without a hearing before an immigration court unless they meet one of several conditions. One of these is making a claim that, if returned to one's home country, one has a fear of persecution or torture.

An apprehended immigrant who makes such a claim is entitled to a "credible fear" review by a CBP agent and, if he meets a low-threshold for establishing credible fear, fuller immigration court proceedings. Such proceedings can take months, or even years, thanks to the court's enormous backlog; in the meantime, asylum applicants can get a work authorization.

What is more, most initial credible fear claims are eventually rejected: Just 12 percent of applicants are eventually granted asylum, according to the White House. About half of individuals who make credible fear claims do not even attempt to make a formal asylum application. And among those who do, many fail to show up for their immigration court hearings: 17,200 failed to appear in Q1 2019.

The asylum system, then, is an obvious vector for illegal immigration. It is likely to only become more overrun with applicants as illegal immigration rates continues to grow: some 100,000 individuals were apprehended at the southwestern border in March, many of whom likely sought asylum.

In response to the surge in illegal immigration, Trump's new order makes a number of changes to the asylum process in line with pre-existing federal law. Specifically, it shifts all cases that have been designated as having a claim of credible fear into a streamlined court proceeding, while also imposing a 180-day limit on the length of asylum proceedings in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act. Additionally, asylum applications will carry a fee, and applicants will be blocked from receiving a work authorization until completion of their application.

Separately, in light of the enormous influx of would-be crossers at the southwestern border, the order instructs acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan to reallocate personnel as necessary to accelerate the adjudication of credible fear claims and shore up border enforcement. This change is in line with the proposal of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, earlier this month, to reshuffle staff to address the border crisis.