Administration Seizes COVID-19 to Attack Asylum Again

On July 9, 2020, the administration published another proposed rule further dismantling asylum protections in the U.S., following closely on the heels of its June proposed rule nearly obliterating the current U.S. asylum system.

At this point, the administration is not just trying to put the nail in the U.S. asylum system’s coffin; it is making sure the hole where asylum is buried will be ten feet deep, not six.

This newest proposal weaponizes the COVID-19 pandemic against people fleeing persecution and seeking safety in the U.S.

The proposed rule would  categorize as a “danger to the security” of the U.S. any asylum seeker who applies for  asylum who is from, or who has traveled through, a country impacted by an  infectious disease pandemic, or who shows symptoms of the illness.   In the context of the current coronavirus pandemic, this means that with 188 countries and regions of the world experiencing COVID-19, virtually every arriving asylum seeker would be classified as a “danger to security” were this rule to take effect.

Under existing asylum statutes, anyone deemed a “danger to the security” of the U.S is ineligible for asylum, and also for another form of protective relief, “withholding of removal”.   Therefore, under this proposed rule, an asylum seeker would only be able to seek protection if s/he were eligible under the Convention Against Torture, which applies to only a small fraction of asylum seekers.

The “danger to security” provision of U.S. asylum law ordinarily applies to would-be terrorists, spies, persecutors, serious criminals, or similar threats, not to those whose entry may raise public health concerns.   This is a cynical and callous overreach by the administration to impose yet another barrier to legitimate asylum seekers who look to the U.S. for safety and hope.

Comments opposing the proposed rule are due by midnight on August 10, 2020.   MeBIC will be opposing this rule for reasons similar to our opposition to the June proposed rule.   Contact MeBIC if you would like help submitting a comment in opposition.