Trump's new plan for asylum seekers isn't just stupid and xenophobic — it's unworkable

Carli Pierson

A new law is set to be published in the Federal Register today that practically eliminates applications from asylum seekers at the southern US border, requiring them to apply for refugee status in another country first.

In yesterday’s announcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice stipulated that, unless an applicant for asylum can prove that they already applied for protective status in a third country before arriving in US territory, they will be ineligible.

The American Civil Liberties Union immediately announced it would challenge the law. And in a statement senior director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission Michelle Brané said, “Like the previous travel and asylum bans, this is the latest attempt by President Trump to try to undermine and eliminate asylum by circumventing both Congress and existing law. Seeking asylum is a legal right. Seeking safety is a human right.”

This crisis-turned-catastrophe at the border is occurring in the context of the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Stay in Mexico” policy, where migrants are left to wait in overcrowded and often unsafe and unsanitary conditions in Mexican border cities, waiting months for a meeting with US officials to apply for asylum.

And while Mexico has improved its asylum system, it does not have the necessary resources or infrastructure to handle such a massive humanitarian and financial crisis, which makes it an unsafe and unviable alternative for refugees and migrants seeking international protection. Until a US court makes a decision on the law, however, migrants who don’t fit this new narrow category of eligibility will be left in limbo. On Monday, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Relations advised the U.S. that it will not stand as a Safe Third Country for refugees and asylum seekers looking for protected status in the US.

Chicago-based civil rights and immigration attorney Christina Abraham told me that the new law was “unsurprising”, in a phone call yesterday afternoon. She went on to explain: “This [new law] isn’t making immigration more efficient; they want to make things less efficient. If you process fewer people, then you grant fewer asylum applications.”

Taylor Levy, an immigration attorney and legal coordinator at the El Paso non-profit Annunciation House explained that, “The Trump administration is attempting to unilaterally override long-existing statutes and international treaty obligations via administrative rulemaking, in direct contradiction of the law. The published rule will almost certainly be quickly enjoined by the courts, but only after causing panic and confusion among desperate people who have fled their home countries and arrived at our borders seeking asylum.”

The announcement by DHS comes on the heels of two other racist dramas the president instigated: the first being Trump’s bull-headed attempt to circumvent the US Supreme Court’s limited ruling to block the citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The second was his vitriolic Twitter outburst on Sunday, where he told four freshman Congresswomen of color that they should “go back to where they came from”.

Trump thrives on his own spectacularly manufactured chaos and distractions — from the threats of government shutdowns, to Twitter showdowns, his long lists of acting cabinet members, the escalation of rhetoric with China and Iran, and his embracing of dictators. The President likes to put on a show and Americans are watching whether they like it or not.

Indeed, the ineptitude and racism running amok in the White House is a red-hot poker glaring in our faces. The case for impeachment may not be the best route strategically for Democrats, but more than ever before it looks like a necessary undertaking for the survival of our nation as a democracy.