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March 08, 2018

Sessions Decision Undermines Fairness in Asylum System

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today condemned a decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that casts doubt on the right of asylum seekers to an evidentiary hearing before immigration judges. The organization notes that the move, announced in a summary decision this week, is part of the Trump Administration’s ongoing attack on the asylum system and the due process rights of those seeking protection from persecution. 

In a one-page decision issued Monday—declaring moot the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) 2014 decision in Matter of E-F-H-L—the attorney general implied that immigration judges can deny applicants asylum without a hearing if they find that their written submissions do not evince prima facie eligibility for asylum. Human Rights First notes that this decision lacks any reasoning or analysis. While it vacated the BIA’s precedent decision in Matter of E-F-H-L-, which affirmed that asylum seekers need to be given a hearing, the decision does not overrule longstanding similar precedent from the BIA itself and from the federal courts, and cannot overrule statutes and regulations that provide for immigration court hearings.  

“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. 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,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.   

Human Rights First notes that the immediate practical impact of this decision is unclear, but it sends an ominous signal to asylum applicants as to the Trump Administration's commitment to ensuring that their claims for protection are carefully reviewed—a signal reinforced by comments from a Justice Department spokesman, quoted this week in The Washington Post. In those comments, the Justice Department spokesman criticized the BIA’s affirmation of the need not to dismiss asylum seekers unheard as cluttering the courts with frivolous claims.

For more information see Human Rights First’s 2017 report, Tilted Justice. To speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.