Fear Mongering and Alternative Facts: The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Asylum

America as a safe haven: this vision is central to the country’s ideals and identity. And it’s rooted in reality. The United States has a long history of providing refuge to victims of persecution. The United States helped spearhead the effort to draft the 1951 Refugee Convention in the wake of World War II and later ratified the Refugee Protocol. Over the years, the country has been a resettlement leader, and Congress created the

U.S. asylum system to assess the eligibility for refugee protection of applicants in or arriving in the United States.

The Trump Administration is breaking with this proud tradition. Its rhetoric and actions are leading the United States to turn away, deny protection to, and punish refugees in violation of U.S. treaty obligations and American ideals. While its cutbacks to resettlement and its bans on refugees from majority-Muslim nations have received the most attention, the administration is also targeting asylum.

Refugees seeking asylum have been illegally turned away at U.S. borders, denied release from immigration jails even when they do not warrant continued detention, and criminally prosecuted for “illegal” entry despite U.S. treaty prohibitions on penalizing refugees. Other Trump Administration actions undermine due process and fair asylum adjudications.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example, has taken steps to encourage immigration judges to deprive asylum seekers of asylum hearings and to potentially deny protection to some refugees—including women who have suffered domestic violence.

Spewing rhetoric that falsely paints asylum seekers as frauds, security threats, and dangerous criminals, administration officials tout extreme changes to U.S. laws as the answer to manufactured dangers and demand these changes as the price for legislation to help the Dreamers. Anti-refugee and anti-asylum rhetoric—often coming from political appointees heading the very agencies that adjudicate asylum claims—sends a signal that agency leaders are attempting to influence adjudicators’ asylum decisions.

Issue Brief

Published on March 19, 2018


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