“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet,” was how Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), suggested revising the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty in August when the Trump administration rolled out a regulation that would pave the way for denying green cards or citizenship to legally admitted immigrants who had used Medicaid, food stamps or other public benefits.
Yesterday, the Trump administration took yet another step that makes a mockery of Lady Liberty’s iconic welcome by publishing a regulation that would put a price tag on the right to seek asylum in the United States.
The administration will impose a fee of $50 on the application for asylum and $490 on the accompanying application for work authorization — the first time in American history that the United States will require people seeking protection from persecution to pay to have their claims considered.
The administration will raise the fees for becoming a citizen by more than 60 percent and fees for “Dreamers” to renew DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status by 54 percent, just as the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the Trump administration’s justification for terminating DACA.
The foundation of international refugee law is the prohibition on sending refugees back to face threats to their lives or freedom. It is not reserved for those who can pay.
The new regulation applies to people applying “affirmatively” for asylum, meaning those who voluntarily come forward asking for protection. It does not include a waiver for people who are too poor to pay the fee, even though fee waivers are considered for nearly every other requested immigration benefit or service. The administration also published another regulation that will delay work authorization for one year from the time the person applies for asylum.
These regulations assume asylum seekers can afford to pay $540 in fees, maintain themselves without working for a full year, and still afford an immigration attorney to represent them.
In my experience, most asylum seekers struggle to support themselves. These regulations will require them to pay to seek asylum but won’t allow them to earn money to meet that expense. Barred from work authorization, they will not have the money to hire a lawyer to navigate the increasingly convoluted asylum procedure. The U.S. does not provide asylum seekers — even those facing deportation to possible torture and persecution — the right to a court-appointed attorney, a right it recognizes for people facing criminal charges.
Consider the poor Central American woman whose government fails to protect her from violence being told that she must pay to have her refugee claim heard. Or what if Bangladesh or Uganda posted officials with cash registers at their borders and provided asylum only to those fleeing Rohingya or South Sudanese refugees who could pay their way.
These new regulations come from the administration of a president who laments not separating more children from their parents at the border; from an administration with attorneys general who have attempted to lock up asylum seekers for longer periods of time and broadly sought to disqualify asylum seekers fleeing gangs and domestic violence.
This is an administration that forces asylum seekers at the southern border to wait indefinitely in Mexico in precarious conditions while their asylum claims are being processed; and an administration that strong-arms poor, refugee-producing Central American countries into agreeing to pose as “safe third countries” to which the U.S. will return asylum seekers, even though these countries have almost no capacity to provide fair consideration of their protection claims.
Added to these abusive practices, the Trump administration now proposes squeezing blood from a stone by making asylum seekers pay for the privilege of accessing their fundamental rights. The callousness of this proposal is surpassed only by its pettiness. And Lady Liberty sheds a tear.