Proposed Rule on Asylum Seekers Will Harm Economy and Violate Human Rights

On November 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed sweeping and unprecedented changes to how those seeking asylum protection in the U.S. will be treated while pursing their claims.

If the proposed rule change takes effect, it will be another step in the administration’s efforts to turn the U.S. asylum program, created by Congress decades ago, into a farce.  It will also harm the U.S., and Maine’s, economy.

The proposed rule would require asylum seekers who enter the U.S. through border posts to wait a full year after they apply for asylum before they could get a work permit to support themselves.  This is more than double their already long current wait of 180 days.

Even more harsh, the proposed rule would prevent asylum seekers from getting a work permit at all while their asylum applications are in process, if they entered “without inspection”.   The vast majority of asylum seekers entering the U.S. over the southern border enter without inspection because border officials are “metering” entries, forcing asylum seekers to wait months to enter legally.

To be clear, with over a million cases (of all types, not just asylum) pending in the immigration court system, and with hundreds of thousands of asylum cases already filed with the administrative asylum system, getting a decision in an asylum case routinely takes years.   Depriving asylum seekers, who, regardless of how they enter the U.S., have the legal right to apply for asylum under U.S. and international law, of the ability to work and support themselves for a year, or perpetually, while their asylum applications are in process, is effectively a statement that the U.S. does not want those fleeing harm to seek safety from persecution in this country.

The proposed rule acknowledges its economic costs, quantifying the potential lost earnings annually to asylum seekers due to delayed or complete inability to work at an amount ranging from over $1.7 billion to over $4.1 billion annually.

The administration also estimates the proposed rule’s annual effect on businesses:

“(I)f companies are unable to find reasonable labor substitutes for the position the asylum applicant would have filled then $4,461.9 million is the estimated maximum monetized cost of the rule.”

Furthermore, the proposed rule estimates that annual lost federal payroll taxes could be as high as $682.9 million annually.  The rule does not estimate the cost to the economy in foregone spending by asylum seekers in their local economies, nor the impact of lost state and local taxes.

Maine has an acute labor shortage, and needs workers.  Not only is this proposed rule a violation of the U.S.’s international law obligations, it is an economic disaster.   With the administration’s cuts to the refugee resettlement program, resulting in fewer refugees coming to Maine, and other proposals that would slash immediate family immigration, Maine needs asylum seekers to help keep the state’s population and workforce vibrant.

Asylum seekers, such as those who arrived in Portland during the summer of 2019 and who continue to arrive, choose to come to Maine not only because the state has a reputation as welcoming, but also because Maine already has established communities of immigrants from countries such as Angola, Burundi, the DRC, and Rwanda who can help them acclimate to the U.S.   Once they arrive here, asylum seekers want to work, be self-supporting, and to contribute to their new communities in Maine.

This proposed rule, coupled with another proposed rule that would require them to pay $490 for their initial work permits (which currently are free), would deprive asylum seekers of the dignity of being self-supporting, while also depriving Maine’s employers of their talents as employees.

Public comments on this rule will be accepted through January 13, 2020.   MeBIC will submit a comment voicing strong opposition to the proposed rule.  Please contact MeBIC if your business would like to submit a comment as well.