Attorney General Jeff Sessions, taking his cue from President Trump, has turned the Statue of Liberty’s “golden door” into a barbed-wire gate bristling with cruelty and rejection.
Fortunately, the ACLU and North Carolina Rep. David Price are seeking to clear some of the meanness that immigrants are meeting on the nation’s southern border. The ACLU successfully sued to end the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents, though the administration is still struggling to reunite hundreds of families.
On Tuesday, the civil rights group sued to end Sessions’ heartless crackdown on immigrants seeking asylum. Under a policy imposed in June, the conditions that qualify for asylum were narrowed to exclude people seeking refuge from gang violence and domestic abuse in their native lands.
Sessions said in a June speech, “Asylum was never meant to eliminate all problems, even all serious problems, people face every day all over the world.”
In Congress, Price is making surprising progress for a Democrat in pushing back against the new border policies. He’s successfully proposed amendments that will hold the Trump administration accountable for family separations and require it to restore broader asylum standards.
Price, who represents the 4th District including Orange County and parts of Wake and Durham counties, traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border last month where he met with immigrants from Central America who were fleeing violence. Since July, Price has successfully passed two amendments to the Homeland Security appropriations bill. The amendments must still survive efforts to strip them from the House Appropriations bill, but the fact that Price’s proposals have advanced through committee signals that many Republicans in Congress are ready to break with the hard line taken by Trump and and his attorney general.
Price, the former chairman and current member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, said the panel’s adoption of the asylum amendment “marks a significant step in reversing one of the administration’s most egregious immigration policies, and I’m proud to have the bipartisan support of my colleagues in this Committee.”
Under a policy Sessions imposed in June, the grounds to qualify for asylum were narrowed to exclude people seeking refuge from gang violence and domestic abuse. Sessions contends that some immigrants use asylum claims to gain entry to the United States and then fail to show up for hearings. But that problem, if it is one, should be solved by better tracking of asylum applicants, not by slamming the door on many who have legitimate fears that deportation back to their native country could be a death sentence.
The new policy of accelerating asylum hearings and granting fewer approvals may be taking that toll on some of those rejected. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which tracks federal data, including the results of immigration cases, said the Justice Department’s immigration judges are finding that fewer asylum seekers have a “credible fear.” The number of asylum cases approved by the judges has fallen from more than 35 percent at the start of the year to under 15 percent in June.
The attorney general is wrong on at least two points. First, most asylum seekers are not crossing the border illegally, they are in flight and seeking refuge. Second, the increase in asylum applications is not evidence of more immigrants exploiting a weakness in the law. It is evidence that conditions in several Central American countries have become so dangerous the only way to survive is to leave.
The ACLU and Price are taking welcome steps to make the reception of asylum-seekers who come to our border a true reflection of the ideals of the nation they seek to enter.