Public Comment Opposing Proposed Rules on Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal
October 23, 2020
Human Rights First submits this comment urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw these proposed rules in their entirety. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would further eviscerate procedural protections for asylum seekers in removal proceedings, making it more difficult for refugees to find safety in the United States.
The proposed rule would create a 15-day filing deadline for asylum applications for those in asylum-only proceedings, making it virtually impossible for many refugees to obtain counsel or fully develop their asylum claims. The proposed rule would require immigration judges to adjudicate most asylum applications within 180 days of filing with very limited exceptions for continuances, which could block asylum seekers from finding counsel or fully preparing their cases. Further, the rule would require immigration judges to reject asylum applications for even minor errors in completing the application form or for failing to pay an unprecedented $50 asylum fee with no exceptions for detained or indigent persons. Many asylum seekers arrive in the United States with limited financial resources. Finally, the proposed rule would allow immigration judges to submit evidence in asylum proceedings – further undermining their role in fairly developing the record and serving as neutral decision makers – and it instructs judges to consider U.S. government reports as credible evidence while downgrading the weight accorded to reports from independent human rights groups and journalists.
We strongly object to these proposed regulations, which would substantially impair due process protections for refugees seeking protection in U.S. immigration courts and will likely result in the wrongful deportation of refugees to the countries they have fled and where they fear persecution or death in violation of U.S. law and treaty obligations.
Human Rights First and Its Interest in This Issue
For over 40 years, Human Rights First has provided pro bono legal representation to refugees seeking asylum in the United States and advocated for the protection of the human rights of refugees. Human Rights First grounds its work in the legal standards of the 1951 Refugee Convention, its Protocol, and other international human rights instruments, and we advocate adherence to these standards in U.S. law and policy. Human Rights First operates one of the largest and most successful pro bono asylum representation programs in the country. Working in partnership with volunteer attorneys at many of the nation’s leading law firms, we provide legal representation, without charge, to hundreds of refugees each year through our offices in California, New York, and Washington D.C. This extensive experience dealing directly with refugees seeking protection in the United States is the foundation for our advocacy and informs the comments that follow.
Through our pro bono refugee representation program, Human Rights First and our volunteer lawyers know how difficult it already is for asylum seekers to find quality legal representation and to be granted protection in the United States. This rule would substantially limit the due process protections of the refugees we represent and gravely undermine those of the many asylum seekers who are unable to find or afford to retain competent legal counsel. By imposing shortened application filing deadlines and fees, and by limiting continuances, the rule will multiply the barriers asylum seekers face in applying for protection and in their ability to retain representation. The rule will also make it more difficult for legal service providers like Human Rights First to locate pro bono attorneys able to take on these cases. Had the provisions of the proposed rules been in place, many of our clients would have been denied the lifesaving protection provided by U.S. asylum law.