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January 10, 2020

Response to Proposed Rulemaking: Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants

January 9, 2020

Dear Ms. Deshommes:

Human Rights First submits these comments in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s(DHS)Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in the Federal Register on November 14, 2019, by which DHS proposes to ban asylum seekers from legally working in the United States one year or longer. The rule would: (1) prohibit asylum seekers from receiving legal authorization to work in the “asylum applicant” category for over a year after they file for asylum; (2) severely limit and impede asylum seekers’ eligibility for employment authorization;and (3) make changes to asylum application processing that will result in numerous arbitrary, counterproductive and unfair denials of asylum claims. The rule also proposes to apply these changes to asylum seekers who filed for asylum under current law and based on the understanding that—after the 180-day waiting period required by statute—they would be able to support themselves lawfully through work while their applications were pending.

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Human Rights First strongly opposes this proposed rule and urges the agency to abandon it. Through our pro bono refugee representation program, Human Rights First and our volunteer lawyers see first-hand how difficult it already is for asylum seekers to survive in the early stages of the asylum application process, even with the current six-month wait for work authorization. The proposed rule would ban asylum seekers from legally working in the United States for at least one year and often for many years,making it difficult to impossible for them to feed and support themselves and their families and threatening the health, safety, and very lives of the refugees requesting protection in the United States. The multi-year backlogs at the asylum office and immigration courts would further heighten the already harmful impact of the proposed changes. Moreover, the retroactive application of these disadvantages to asylum seekers who made the decision to file for asylum under the current employment authorization regulations, will be cruelly disruptive of the lives of many asylum applicants with valid claims, some of whom 2/20 have been living, working, and bringing up their children in the United States for years while waiting for the adjudication of their asylum claims.

The explanation to the proposed rule is riddled with inaccuracies and politicized rhetoric disparaging the asylum claims pending before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the immigration courts. The DHS proposed rulemaking falsely paints increases in asylum filings as the result of fraud, ignoring regional displacement that has prompted people to flee to the United States and other countries in the region from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Northern Triangle of Central America. This displacement–along with the asylum and immigration court backlogs -can and should be managed in ways that treat people seeking refuge humanely. While the proposal purports to be aimed at asylum seekers who “file frivolous, fraudulent or non-meritorious cases to obtain employmentauthorization,” DHS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)have many tools to counter fraud, and the proper focus for those tools is the adjudication of the asylum claim itself.

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