Anti-Immigrant Policies Strip Away Legal Protections for Asylum Seekers Fleeing Violence, Political Repression
Policy Changes Borne Out of Animus Toward Immigrants, Issued by Unlawfully Appointed USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli
Filing Seeks to Block Administration from Implementing Unlawful Directives
Washington, D.C.- Last week, on behalf of seven asylum seekers and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), Democracy Forward, RAICES and Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) moved for a nationwide preliminary injunction to stop the Trump administration from continuing to implement several unlawful asylum directives in detention centers across the country. The filing is part of the plaintiffs’ ongoing lawsuit challenging the directives, which eviscerate protections for asylum seekers fleeing persecution, were driven by animus toward asylum seekers, particularly asylum seekers of color, and were issued by an unlawfully appointed Trump official, Ken Cuccinelli.
The Trump administration was aware that the Senate would block Cuccinelli’s confirmation to any position, and instead did an end-run around the law through the extraordinary step of creating a new office for Cuccinelli in order to install him as the acting head of USCIS.
The filing details the urgent need to halt the unlawful asylum directives in light of how they expose asylum seekers to removal back to countries where they fear persecution and violence. The directives prevent asylum seekers from fully consulting with their attorneys or other third parties and from effectively presenting their asylum claim at what is called the “credible fear” interview—the outcome of which can be the difference between life or death if the immigrant is forced to return to a dangerous homeland. These fears can include persecution by their country’s government, physical or sexual abuse from a domestic partner, or violence from transnational criminal gangs (including MS-13), which the individual asylum seekers in this case cite.
“The administration’s unlawful asylum directives are inflicting harm on some of the most vulnerable and must be stopped,” said Democracy Forward Counsel John Lewis. “The cruelty of these policies is matched only by their sheer illegality.”
Asylum seekers detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas and the Karnes County Detention Center in Karnes City, Texas, as well as the Berks County Residential Facility in Leesport, PA, all of which principally house women and minor children, are subject to these unlawful directives. The Trump administration could choose to expand these directives to other detention centers at a moment’s notice, if they have not done so already.
The administration’s unlawful asylum directives are designed to diminish the likelihood of success for these asylum seekers by rushing them through their interview, and by stripping away critical protections designed to ensure that they understand their rights and have the opportunity to consult with counsel or other third parties, like family and friends or medical and psychological professionals. Specifically, the directives drastically cut the time asylum seekers have to consult a third party and prepare evidence for their credible fear interview and prohibit asylum seekers from obtaining a continuance for the interview except in extraordinary circumstances, such as being unconscious.
The motion was filed on September 27, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas. RAICES is the largest immigration non-profit in Texas with offices in Austin, Corpus, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., known as CLINIC, is the largest nationwide network of nonprofit immigration agencies, with 375 affiliates in 49 states and the District of Columbia. Programs include training and supporting immigration legal agencies, advocating for humane immigration policies, integration support and legal representation for immigrant religious workers. CLINIC also is a partner in providing pro bono representation to detained families, and offers public education materials on immigrants’ rights and Catholic teaching on migration.
Proskauer is an international law firm recognized for its excellence both in practicing law and serving clients. It is a trusted advisor to many of the world’s top companies, financial institutions, investment funds, not-for-profit institutions, governmental entities and other organizations across industries and borders.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.