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June 11, 2020

Grant Rates Plummet as Trump Administration Dismantles U.S. Asylum System, Blocks and Deports Refugees

On June 10, 2020, the Trump Administration proposed an expansive, new regulation that, if implemented, would eviscerate asylum protections for the vast majority of people seeking refugee protection in the United States. This illegal policy is the latest effort by the Trump Administration to dismantle the asylum system and trample on U.S. refugee laws—including the 1980 Refugee Act—passed by Congress to uphold U.S. legal commitments under the post-World War II Refugee Convention and its Protocol.

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At the same time, the administration has sought to delegitimize and vilify asylum seekers. Upon taking office, President Trump repeated false assertions that asylum seekers “get a free pass into [the United States] by lodging meritless claims” and repeatedly expressed xenophobic animosity against refugees and immigrants. The President described Central Americans seeking protection at the southern U.S. border as an “invasion”—a racist trope long used against Chinese and other immigrants—equated immigrants to a “snake,” and questioned why individuals from Haiti, El Salvador, and some African countries, which the President reportedly described as “shithole[s],” come to the United States.

While urging Congress to gut laws that protect refugees seeking asylum, the administration has proceeded to rig the asylum process through a barrage of illegal policy changes, agency regulations, and unilateral Attorney General rulings that render many refugees ineligible for asylum or effectively block them from this life-saving protection. As a result of these violations of long-standing legal precedents and refugee laws adopted by Congress, U.S. immigration judges and asylum officers are increasingly denying asylum to people seeking refugee protection and preventing others from even submitting asylum applications by increasingly ruling against asylum seekers in preliminary screening interviews. The refugees impacted include families, children, and adults from Cameroon, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), El Salvador, Eritrea, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela.

As this fact sheet demonstrates, the Trump Administration’s nativist assault on the asylum system stifles access to legal counsel, delivers asylum seekers to dangers so dire that many abandon their cases, undermines due process and impartial adjudication, and deports refugees with valid asylum claims to the countries they fled. The administration’s policies have, as detailed below, led to many increases in denial rates including:

  • Asylum grant rates in immigration court for fiscal year (FY) 2020 have fallen sharply by nearly 37 percent since FY 2016 to just 27 percent. The current grant rate is 40 percent lower than the average during the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
  • Asylum grant rates for Central Americans have plummeted in the wake of Attorney General rulings targeting survivors of domestic violence and persecuted families. The current average immigration court asylum grant rate of 13.3 percent for Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers (since August 2019) is 50 percent lower than FY 2016.
  • Hundreds of refugees are being denied asylum due to the Trump Administration’s ban on asylum seekers who transit through other countries, including steep falls in asylum grant rates by 45 percent for Cameroonians, 32 percent for Cubans, nearly 30 percent for Venezuelans, 17 percent for Eritreans, and 12 percent for Congolese (DRC) since December 2019.
  • The vast majority of asylum seeker stranded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Mexico under the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) are being denied refugee protections. Only 4.1 percent of asylum seekers and migrants in attendance at their MPP hearings were granted relief. Individuals in attendance at their MPP hearings with an attorney were ten times more likely to receive protection but only 9.3 percent were represented.
  • Following implementation of the administration’s third-country transit asylum ban, fast track deportation programs to block access to legal counsel, and other policies to reduce the number of asylum seekers who pass preliminary asylum screenings, the percentage of asylum seekers found to have a credible fear of persecution in FY 2020 has dropped to 37 percenta 50 percent decline from FY 2019—the lowest level in two decades. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforcement officers used by the administration to conduct some screenings are determining that asylum seekers meet the fear standard at a rate 20 percent lower than in interviews conducted by trained asylum officers.
  • Administration policies are exacerbating the backlog of cases before the immigration courts (now at 1.4 million) and asylum office (more than 340,000 at the end of FY 2019) forcing thousands of asylum seekers to wait years in limbo, separated from family stranded in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans make up the fastest growing segment of the immigration court backlog.

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