A Small Part Of Trump’s Weekend Speech Surprised Us. So We Looked Into It. And Found Even Bigger Surprises…

Trump Administration Appears To Be Trying To Sneak Through Gigantic Changes To Asylum Law As Part Of New Bill The Senate Will Vote On This Week.

Saturday at the White House

Trump’s promise during his speech to introduce “a new system to allow Central American minors to apply for asylum in their home countries”, sounded good. But if you look at the “fine print” it seems to be a brazen and maybe horrifying attempt by the White House to upend U.S. asylum laws.

Trump made a lot of misleading and unsubstantiated claims in his speech (including that “some say” building his wall could cut crime in the U.S. by 50%, which we’ve already discussed in this column). So in that context, we thought a proposal that seemed to be good for Central American minors seemed too good to be true. So we did a little digging…

Trump prioritized this “new system” in his speech, mentioning it even before promising efforts to fix the much more incendiary issue of family separation.

That jumped out at us for several reasons:

  1. It seemed out of character for Trump, who has seemed singularly focused on physically keeping people out, rather than giving them reasons not to leave their countries in the first place. (That’s been limited to yelling at Central American governments, and threatening to pull aid.) Given the administration’s ham-handed approach, this “new” proposal seemed uncharacteristically innovative and compassionate.
  2. At the same time, we also wondered about the efficacy of such a program. Because if the reason for asylum application in the first place was the result of people fearing for their lives every single day, why would they enter a process that would keep them where they are for the substantial amount of time (maybe even years) until the U.S. ruled on their application? In other words, if a drug gang was out to kill you, would you really enter a program where you’d have to wait at home for an answer? No. You’d leave, right?

The first place we looked was the 1301 page bill that the Senate will vote on this week. Remember, this is a bill in which the immigration and asylum parts at least, are written by the White House, for the Senate, and may not even reflect the priorities of the Senate. But Senate leadership has abdicated responsibility and ceded efforts to end the shutdown to the White House.

And it was quite a slog. The ‘‘Central American Minors Protection Act of 2019’’ doesn’t come up until page 1278. But then we immediately found all our answers. If you look at the “fine print” in this new program meant to help entice politicians and the public into giving him his wall, you’ll find the only “innovation” may be an attempt to slip through changes in asylum law, while everybody’s focused on “the wall”.

  • First of all, while it creates a “new system” for young asylum seekers from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, it also appears to forbid them to file for protection anywhere else (with few exceptions). So if they show up at the U.S. border, they won’t be permitted to file and will automatically be rejected, which right now is against the law. Even if you agree changes in U.S. asylum law are necessary, and unless we are completely reading this wrong, this represents a gigantic change in long-standing U.S. law the Trump Administration is simply trying to sneak through. We highlighted the applicable section:
  • Second, there are quotas established by the bill for both the number of applications accepted and the number admitted. (That’s on p. 1286.) Which might be O.K. for an immigration program, but for a program designed for people escaping life-or-death threats, it’s very different.
  • Third, the decision on whether to ultimately admit these young people will be put in the hands Secretary of Homeland Security; not up to judges in U.S. courts. And no court or judge can review their decisions, regardless of applicable laws. Here’s that section:

Compounding this is the fact that a program allowing Central American Minors to apply for asylum outside the U.S. existed under the Obama Administration. It doesn’t exist anymore because Trump signed an Executive Order killing it 2 years ago.

There are differences, both major and minor: for instance, the Obama program allowed people to apply up to the age of 21. Trump limits the maximum age to 18. Under the Obama plan, the child’s parents already had to be in the U.S. legally. Trump’s plan allows for a “parent or guardian” (which is the only piece of it that actually seems like an improvement).

The Obama Administration had actually expanded its program after arranging with the government of Costa Rica (which is generally considered stable and safe,) to protect the children while their cases were being processed, so they wouldn’t have to stay in danger zones while they waited. Trump’s bill makes no such promises. So as we said above, if a drug gang was out to kill you, would you really sit at home and wait for an answer?

And here’s the topper: At the time Trump killed the Obama program, nearly 3,000 children had been approved but not yet relocated. They were not “grandfathered in”. Instead Trump abandoned them. Their approved applications were immediately declared invalid. The nearly 1,500 minors who were approved and already in the U.S. were informed they would lose their legal status and be subject to deportation, unless they could find some other way to extend it. Even though we didn’t know about this until today, you can bet young asylum seekers in these countries definitely do.

So even if Trump is successful in introducing his “new” program, why would anyone apply, given what he ended up doing to the applicants last time? Or maybe that’s part of the calculation..

Come to think of it, given this is completely representative of the underhanded way the Trump Administration operates all the time, maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a big surprise.