Seeking asylum in Trump's America
One in ten of the total annual immigrants entering the U.S. are granted refugee status. In order to obtain refugee status there are three basic requirements: asylum-seekers must establish that they fear persecution in their home country; they must prove that they would be persecuted on account of either race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group; and they must establish that the government is involved in the persecution or unable to control the conduct of others exhorting that persecution.
Since Donald Trump won the United States Presidential elections in November 2016, many things have changed but top of his agenda was the one thing which he based his campaign on: immigration. The Trump administration has focused much of its efforts in reducing the number of immigrants in the U.S. by enforcing mass deportations and passing legislation that toughens the asylum seeking process so less people are granted refugee status in the country.
Rejecting claims based on "private crime"
In June 2018, the Trump administration introduced new rules which block courts from granting asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, two of the primary reasons why people seek asylum in the country, especially those coming from Central America where there's a big threat with the presence of "maras" or gangs who exhort violence. The decision contained concrete guidance to asylum officers, directing them to reject more claims based on "private crime" - in particular, domestic abuse or gang violence.
Passed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, this decision overturned a precedent set by the Obama administration that allowed women to claim fear of domestic abuse. Under the policies the Trump administration was trying to pass, these arguments did not prevail in immigration courts. According to Sessions, the Obama administration had created "powerful incentives for people to come [to the U.S.] illegally and claim a fear of return."
Good news is that six months later, in December 2018, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration policies that prevented immigrants who suffered gang violence or domestic abuse in their home countries from seeking asylum.
As Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in an interview, "the consequences are dire for people who are turned around, these people will be returned to persecution without even having the chance to have their claims for asylum assessed in the U.S. immigration courts."
But a year later, the Trump administration keeps fighting back. Now the Trump administration is requiring migrants claiming political asylum in the USA to make their claims in other countries first.
Women escaping extortion
The presence of "maras" or gangs, has only increased over the past years in Central America. This is posing a big threat for families who are requested to pay large amounts of money that sometimes they can't afford. They live in constant fear that the threats these "maras" make to extort them (which include violence or even the death of family members) might happen if they don't pay. As a result, many end up fleeing when the bill is too high.
An article in NPR explains how Dahani Gudiel, a woman from Guatemala, decided to travel North to the U.S. border with her three children after her husband, who lived in the U.S. had died and she started receiving threats from a gang. As Dahani explained "they told me they were watching my daughters" and that if she didn't pay the $2,000 they requested, "something would happen to them." She had to leave and told her children that they were going on vacation.
Another woman under the pseudonym Grace, fled Guatemala to the U.S. to seek asylum, claiming that her partner and her two gang member sons from another relationship consistently beat her and threatened to kill her and her children. She had sought help from the police in Guatemala first but they failed to protect her and she had to flee the country. With the new rules based by Jeff Sessions, Grace's asylum attempt might be rejected.
In May, another woman called Lourdes crossed the bridge from Mexico to El Paso, Texas, to request the refugee status. She told the asylum officer about a scar on her arm and the four missing fingers on her left hand, evidence of a brutal attack by one of the many "maras" in Honduras. She owned a small store in Honduras and a local gang tried to extort money from her - they beat her, burned her arm with acid and damaged her hand so severely that four fingers had to be amputated. After reporting the incident to the local police, they didn't followup and she had to hide for five years. After that period, the gang found her and threatened to kill her so she finally decided to seek asylum in the U.S. After exposing the situation to the asylum officer at the U.S. border, her claim was rejected.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed a lawsuit alleging that the Trump administration is unfairly preventing migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. The ACLU stated that the disregard for "the life or death circumstances that these immigrant women and children are facing is beyond unacceptable."
It's hard to see a brighter future in the next year while the Trump administration is still behind the immigration policies. Hopefully, after the four-year term, things might change and the many unresolved or rejected claims will have a second chance.