US limiting the right to asylum
The Trump administration has moved to limit the right to asylum in the United States sparking controversy around the potential for thousands of people who fled violence and persecution in their home countries to be turned away.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions is attempting to reshape the law on who qualifies for asylum, and whether they get a hearing in court.
So far, Mr Sessions has intervened in two cases that could have big implications for people who come to the US and seek asylum.
The move comes as the number of applications for asylum in the US has risen in recent years.
Mr Sessions says he is simply trying to eliminate what he has called “rampant fraud and abuse” in those applications, and to cut into a massive backlog of immigration cases.
But immigrant rights advocates fear that legitimate asylum-seekers, including victims of domestic violence, could be denied sanctuary in the US.
Advocates point to Mr Sessions’ long held position of being anti-immigration and asylum.
“We can close loopholes and clarify our asylum laws to ensure that they help those they were intended to help,” Mr Sessions said in an October speech.
“As this system becomes overloaded with fake claims, it cannot deal effectively with just claims,” he said.
Immigration courts in the US are facing a huge backlog – more than 600,000 cases and triple the number in 2009.
One factor driving that growing backlog is a constant stream of women and children from Central America.
Many of these migrants claim asylum because, they say, they’ve been the victims of gangs, or domestic violence, in their home countries.
Lobby group Human Rights First has condemned Mr Sessions’ decision to effectively remove the right of appeal for asylum seekers saying that the move is part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing attack on the asylum system and the due process rights of those seeking protection from persecution.
“The attorney general is sending a dangerous signal that encourages immigration judges to disregard due process, existing law and regulations, and deprive asylum seekers of immigration court hearings,” a Human Rights First statement said.
“Many asylum seekers are not able to secure legal counsel to assist them in filing detailed asylum applications and written legal arguments, and many do not speak English.
“Nor are they lawyers who should be expected to know which of the many facts relating to their history of persecution are most relevant to highly complex U.S. asylum laws.
“Denying asylum without a hearing would turn due process on its head and transform immigration court adjudications into a farce,” the statement said.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist