President Trump and the Future of Our Refugee and Asylum Programs

by Jason Dzubow on November 9, 2016

The People have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. He will enter office with a Republican House and Senate, though not a filibuster-proof majority, but certainly enough to enact much of his legislative/policy agenda. So what can asylum seekers, asylees, and refugees expect?

Sometimes white is a very dark color.

Sometimes white is a very dark color.

Of course, with Mr. Trump, it’s often hard to know his plan. Will he keep his campaign promises to ban Muslims? Return Syrian refugees? Build a wall? Narrow the category of people eligible for asylum (as implied by the Republican Party platform)? Can these policies even be implemented in practice? It’s far too soon to know which direction Mr. Trump will go with all this, but here are some initial thoughts, not so much about what he will do, but about what he has the power to do.

Banning Muslim Immigrants: The U.S. government has the power to block most anyone from coming to the United States. In previous eras, we have excluded Chinese, Southern Europeans, Jews, and all sorts of other “undesirables.” More recently, after 9-11, we enacted Special Registration for people from certain majority-Muslim nations, though this was not a ban on Muslims, just a restriction on those already here.

Also, if you have ever applied for a U.S. visa, you know that the consulates exercise almost unlimited discretion to deny visas to people deemed ineligible. For people overseas seeking a visa, it would be easy for President Trump to deny visas to applicants from majority-Muslim countries, or to those who are Muslim. This could be done even without Congressional action.

The policy implications for such a move would be unpredictable. How would the “banned” countries react? What would this mean for our diplomatic relations with those countries and our ability to cooperate with them against the war on Islamic extremists? There are also economic implications for trade, business investment, and universities that enroll (and make money from) foreign students. I imagine the competing constituencies would weigh in on the efficacy of a Muslim ban, and so it is difficult to know how this would work in practice. But President Trump will basically have the power to block Muslims who are overseas from coming to the United States.

Refugees: This past year, we accepted about 85,000 refugees. Traditionally, the plurality of refugees we accept are Christian, but in FY 2016–for the first time since FY 2006–the plurality (44%) of refugees resettled in the United States were Muslim (the Pew Research Center provides some good data on this subject). This shift reflected President Obama’s response (tepid, in my opinion) to the Syrian refugee crisis. In determining how many refugees to bring to the U.S., the President consults with Congress and comes up with a number. So Mr. Trump could reduce or eliminate the number of refugees coming to the U.S., or he could shift the focus away from Muslim refugees.

Again, there are policy implications for such a move. The world is facing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. What does it mean for the character of our nation to ignore the suffering of these individuals? How will our retrenchment affect the efforts of other countries to assist refugees? How will it affect our ability to wield moral authority and to continue our role as the leader of the Free World? Or have we as a nation decided to abdicate that role?

Asylees and Muslim Refugees Who Are Already in the United States: And what about those Syrian refugees (and other refugees and asylees) who are already here and have already been granted refugee status or asylum in the United States? Deporting people who are here, with lawful status, is much more difficult than excluding people from coming here in the first place. Such people have a Constitutional right to due process of law, meaning that they cannot be deported from the U.S. without a legal procedure. Currently, that procedure involves presenting one’s case to an Immigration Judge, who then determines whether the person is eligible to remain in the United States. People who have already qualified for protection under U.S. law (which is based on our ratification of various international treaties) cannot simply be removed from the country. The procedure to remove them is long, and–given that they have already qualified for protection–under current law, they cannot be deported.

For these reasons, although Mr. Trump has vowed to send Syrian refugees back, I suspect that this will not be easily accomplished. First, it would mean a change in the law, and this requires the cooperation of Congress. As mentioned, while the Republicans have a majority of seats in Congress, there is still a powerful Democratic minority that could potentially block such a change. Also, it is likely that a significant minority of Republicans would oppose changing our humanitarian laws.

And even if the law related to asylum were changed, there are several other laws that people currently in the U.S. might use to avoid removal. For example, those who fear harm as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture might assert a defense based on that treaty. Those who have been here for longer periods of time might be eligible for other forms of relief, like Cancellation of Removal or adjustment of status based on a family relationship. In short, people who are living in the U.S. and who have refugee or asylum status have several layers of protection that will likely insulate them from any effort to have them removed. And any effort to make the sweeping changes needed to force such people to leave will require unified Congressional action, something that we are unlikely to see.

Of course, if such changes could somehow be made, there are policy implications here as well. What will it mean to send back Syrian refugees (mostly women and children) to that war torn region? How will it affect our moral standing in the world? What would it mean for international law in general if we abrogate our treaty obligations? And what would be the “ripple effect” of such a policy?

People with Asylum Cases Pending: People who are in the United States with asylum cases pending also have the benefit of due process protections. They cannot be deported unless and until an Immigration Judge determines that they do not qualify to remain in the United States. Under current law, even people from majority-Muslim countries benefit from these protections–which are “rights”–under domestic and international law. To change this regime, Congressional action would be necessary. Again, it is unclear whether President Trump will have the supported needed to enact such sweeping changes in this area of law.

The bigger immediate concern for people with pending asylum cases is how the Trump Administration will allocate resources towards the asylum system. I suspect that resources will be increased for Immigration Courts (which can deport people, but which can also grant relief and allow people to stay here). I am not so optimistic about the Affirmative Asylum System–these are the Asylum Offices that review asylum cases filed by people who are in the U.S. and who fear persecution in their home country. The Affirmative Asylum System is already beleaguered by long delays, and if the new Administration diverts resources from that system, it will only slow the process further. One option for a Trump Administration might be to eliminate the Asylum Offices and send everyone to Immigration Court. How this would play out in terms of delay or efficacy, I do not know.

The Wall and Restrictions on the Definition of Particular Social Group: Finally, Donald Trump has promised to build a wall to prevent people from entering the U.S. through Mexico. This seems to me more a fanciful campaign promise than a realistic or effective means of tightening the border. So I doubt he will build an actual wall. He could however, make it more difficult for people arriving at the Southern border to seek asylum by restricting the definition of those eligible for asylum. Specifically, many people who come to the border seek asylum because they fear persecution by gangs or domestic violence (in legal terms, they are seeking asylum because they fear persecution on account of their “particular social group”). Our current system allows such people to arrive at the border, “pass” a credible fear interview, enter the U.S., and then have their cases adjudicated by an Immigration Judge. If a Trump Administration restricted the definition of particular social group, and raised the bar for credible fear interviews, it could largely shut down the border without resorting to a wall, and probably without violating our treaty obligations.

Again, of course, there are policy concerns here. If relations with Mexico sour, that country could do less to interdict migrants traveling north through it’s territory. That could result in a larger refugee crisis at our border. Also, if our country closes the doors to refugees in our backyard, other countries may follow suit, and the result would be a more severe worldwide refugee crisis, and the likely deaths of many innocent people trying to escape harm.

For now, all this is conjecture. Donald Trump will not assume office for another few months. During that time, he will (presumably) begin to articulate how he will translate his promises into actual policy. Given the campaign we just witnessed, it is difficult not to be pessimistic. However, to paraphrase John Donne, No policy is an island, entire of itself. To implement changes to the humanitarian laws will implicate many other important policy areas. Perhaps–we can hope–this will help mitigate the more radical plans raised prior to the election. Here’s John Donne, once more, “Any man’s death diminishes me / Because I am involved in mankind / And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls / It tolls for thee.” Let’s hope Mr. Trump recognizes the gravity of his proposed changes, and the effect they could have on innocent lives. Let’s hope.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Seerat June 10, 2017 at 7:48 am

Hello i want to know that i have 5yrs multiple visa of USA n i had a tour from 3rd oct 2016 to 24 feb 2017 n i had applied for asylum i didnot take my s.s or any thing due to some reasons i decided to come back to my home land now i want to know can i go back to USA or not am from Pakistan please guide me i am so worried

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Jason Dzubow June 12, 2017 at 9:24 pm

You can probably board the plane (but I think this is not guaranteed), but once you get here, you might have trouble at the airport. They may not let you in, and may try to make you get back on the plane and leave. If that happens, you can either leave, or claim asylum at the airport. If you do that, you could be detained and have to do your case while in jail. Or maybe you will be able to get out and seek asylum with an immigration judge. Take care, Jason

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Seerat June 14, 2017 at 5:06 pm

So its risky to come to USA it means i can not come to USA whole life? Is there any alternate? I want to come

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Jason Dzubow June 16, 2017 at 6:29 am

You can try to come back on your existing visa, but I do think there is a risk, as I said. Maybe a good first step is to contact the asylum office and ask them to close your asylum case. You can find their contact info if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Locator. Once the case is closed, the risk of return will be less, and it will be easier for you to get a visa in the future. Take care, Jason

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Michael William May 14, 2017 at 8:38 am

God Bless Merciful. May God Bless you. Greeting to you in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. with lot of veneration, I would like to draw your kind attention; I tried my best to go abroad. I have no source. I am worried very much in Pakistan. Sir, my father-in-law had accepted Christian religion after marrying a Christian women (My mother-in-law). The relatives of my father-in-law has been continuously teasing and disturbing him badly because of Christianity. Now after my marriage, I and my wife are also facing such acute hardships. My father-in-law died. But I and my wife are still in trouble due to attitude of my father-in-law relatives. Even it is not possible for me and my wife to live in Pakistan as have no such sources and position to face such problems created by relatives of my father-in-law on his acceptance of Christianity. I cannot discuss to anybody, you know this is a Muslim country. A false and forge case 295/C P.P.C., FIR No.198/14 dated 13.03.2014 in Garhi Shahu,
Lahore P
olice Station, had been registered against me by Hafiz Manzoor Ahmed Khateeb Jamia Masque Chowk Garhi Shahu, Lahore. I am sending you personally because I have come to know very late. I hope you could understand that I am facing many hardships in Pakistan. If you could help me liberally, I am very grateful to you. I am not seeing to way, I am going to where. If your could help me, I shall be very thankful to you. I have three children ( Two daughters One son), I hope that my request will be consider sympathetically for necessary action please me sir, I expect to hear from your Excellency very soon and that my dream say come true. You know very well circumstances. I may be able to live in peace and in accordance with my religious and your law. It is my humble request to you. I am waiting for your answer anxiously. God may shower his blessing on you. Note:-(Sir, all expenses myself Visas/traveling).
The pave proposed to me to visa once and the rest would be arranged not it is very difficult to go out of Pakistan under these circumstances otherwise I would have left for any country of search of congenial atmosphere. I really in bit trouble here and want to got to abroad for peace and tranquility. Your honor you have got complete authority and direct to issueance of visa in my favor. I am sure that after going through the contents of this letter your honor will definitely take final decision and response positively.

Besides your Excellency knows that I am Catholic Christian by birth.

Sir, now I am dishearten from everywhere I have visited Thailand. I have spend there and also financially disturbed. A huge amount occurred on travel to Thailand. I am not in apposition to take my family Singapore from Thailand after every two three months. Now I have to back Pakistan. I mad hard struggle to settle there but it was not easy to settle there. I hope that will be kind enough to give due, favorable and sympathetic consideration to my humble request and issue visa to me so as a special case

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Jason Dzubow May 14, 2017 at 11:18 am

I am sorry for your trouble, but I do not know how I can assist you. If you are in the US, I can assist with an asylum case. Otherwise, if you want to come to the US, you would need to get a visa to come here. If you are in Thailand or some other country, maybe you can seek asylum in that country. Good luck, Jason

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khaled May 3, 2017 at 7:35 am

hi i would like to know why do the assylum cases delay?

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Jason Dzubow May 4, 2017 at 9:30 am

I have done some posts about this. For example, on February 26, 2015 and October 20, 2015. Maybe those would help you. Take care, Jason

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Bocar Lo April 12, 2017 at 9:59 am

Hi who can answer please help I have pending asylum
I applied I 765 in January 2017 I received I 797 c notice of action on January 31 after that they sent me another notice saying we have transferred your case office that have jurisdiction of your case what does that mean?
Is there anyway I can renew my license?
How long it’s taking to get my new card?
How long my card should expired 1yr or 2 yrs thank you.

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Jason Dzubow April 12, 2017 at 3:34 pm

The new EAD will be valid for 2 years. The receipt you received should automatically extend your old card by 6 months, and this should be valid for working and the driver’s license. It normally takes 2 to 4 months to get the new EAD. Take care, Jason

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Bocar Lo April 13, 2017 at 1:58 am

Thank you so much for your time and your help

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paulla April 5, 2017 at 10:01 am

Hi, I was granted refugee status in 2005. My home country is Sudan. I did not ever apply for my greencard after one year. is it too late to do that now. would my status be revoked?

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Jason Dzubow April 7, 2017 at 6:11 am

No, it is not too late. You can apply now, and give the uncertainties of the Trump administration, it is probably a good idea to apply for the green card. Take care, Jason

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Reez March 18, 2017 at 7:00 pm

We have visa B1 /B2 and entry of the country almost 6 months can we apply for asylum and when we hope that we get the work permit and green card I mean period of time for both

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Jason Dzubow March 19, 2017 at 11:01 am

After your asylum case is submitted, you have to wait 150 days and then you can apply for a work permit. It typically takes 2 to 4 months after that to get the work permit. It is unpredictable how long it will take to get to your asylum interview. You can get some idea if you follow the link at right called Asylum Office Scheduling Bulletin. If you win your asylum case, you have to wait one year, and then you can apply for a green card. Take care, Jason

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Ashraf Uddin March 15, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Hi Jason,

February 15th 2017, I entered with my family (wife+2 kids 6y & 4y) from Bangladesh. Am I eligible to apply for Asylum right now or do I have to wait for expired my 6 month B1/B2 Visa? If yes, then when shall we can get work permit? Because my wife, she is now pregnant and we need to survive here at least.

Kindly advice.

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Jason Dzubow March 16, 2017 at 6:16 am

You can apply anytime after arriving here, but you must apply before one year in the US or you may become ineligible for asylum. You can apply for the work permit 150 days after your asylum application is received by the government. Take care, Jason

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Goldy March 16, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Do you deal only in Washington or any other state.

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Jason Dzubow March 17, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Mostly in DC, but we do cases all over the US. Take care, Jason

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M March 8, 2017 at 2:08 am

Dear Jason,

I am from one of those countries and I am waiting for my asylum decision since June 2016. I want to know does second Trump order effects on my case and suspends my case or USCIS keep go on and work on it.

Thank you,

M

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Jason Dzubow March 8, 2017 at 11:30 pm

As I read the new EO, it has no effect on people in the US, and so the government should be able to issue a decision (though this can often take a very long time, as you can see). Take care, Jason

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M March 11, 2017 at 3:28 am

Thank you so much Jason.

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Raj Dev March 2, 2017 at 7:16 pm

HI!!! I am from Nepal and I came to United States in 2012 and applied for asylum. Myou asylem cause is still pending and I have individuals hearing on 2018 in federal court. I am curious about my cause what will happen. I m very worried because of changes in government. What will happen to my causes and what are my chances of approval . Plz help me

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Jason Dzubow March 3, 2017 at 7:09 am

I cannot answer these questions without much more info. If your case is in court, you should get a lawyer, as lawyers make a big difference in court cases. Meet with a lawyer and he or she can evaluate your case. Take care, Jason

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Abiathar fonthus March 1, 2017 at 3:58 pm

I am dear Sir.
Abiathar fonthus
No school from TCI
Aya pi red

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Yoesh March 1, 2017 at 4:30 am

Hi I am from Nepal and I came in 2016 may in USA at student I want file asylum because it is hard to return back to my country so trump will effect for late asylum filing people or deport because I don’t want to go back please help giving me a helpful suggestion because it relates with my life

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Jason Dzubow March 2, 2017 at 7:08 am

I discuss this in articles I have written in the last few weeks – maybe those will help. In short, Trump has not really affected people in the US seeking asylum. Also, you must file for asylum within one year of arriving here, or you could become ineligible, so if you plan to file for asylum, you should do so before May 2017. Take care, Jason

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