(Dec. 18, 2021) - The Trump administration’s efforts to end asylum are so extensive that I cannot cover them all in detail but you can read a timeline of these efforts from the National Immigrant Justice Center. Some examples of the administrations’ efforts include: a stricter threshold for the credible fear interviews which resulted in higher rates of denials; hindering the ability of people seeking asylum on the basis of gender-based violence; and closing the border entirely, forcing migrants to wait for an unspecified length of time in Mexico. Unfortunately, the list is much longer.
Sarah Pierce, an immigration policy analyst has called these efforts ‘ the bureaucratic wall ’ because between the executive orders and new policies, the number of refugees who were admitted decreased by 65% between 2016 and 2019. While the focus has largely been on refugees at our southern border, these policies also had a devastating impact on refugees from majority-Muslim countries like Iraq, Somalia, Iran, and Syria.
Immigration attorney Marty Rosenbluth voices that Barr, Sessions and other Attorney Generals under the Trump administration “overturned decades of precedents in immigration courts, particularly asylum but also with types of reliefs and ways people can apply to stay here.” Decades of precedents were undone in just 4 years, making it impossible for people to enter and taking away people’s legal protection to stay in the U.S.
In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the ‘ Zero-tolerance’ policy which apprehended anyone thought to be crossing the border illegally. Arriving adults were taken to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution while their children were taken away and placed under the Department of Health and Human Services.
The exact number of families that were separated is unknown but estimates say up to 3,000 children were separated from their families. This practice of separating children from their families had already been taking place before its official announcement as a policy in April 2018, and did not end that June with the court injunction and consequent executive order that were supposed to stop this practice.
The policy of targeting families for criminal prosecution and separation was a new low for the treatment of immigrants. Targeting asylum seekers and labeling them as ‘illegally entering’ the country is a dubious practice, as the process for seeking asylum does not require that refugees enter the country in any particular way. They just have to enter the country and start their application within 1 year of their arrival. This ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy was severely harmful to asylum seekers because it took away their due process and humanity. The children who were placed in terrible conditions and ripped away from their parents will have lifelong psychological harm due to these policies.
COVID-19 As An Excuse
Like with everything, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border. “A close relative of mine is trying to come to the U.S. ‘the right way.’” Ilsia Muñiz with Immigrant Connection shares, “COVID-19 has been used to limit immigration- both legal and illegal. President Trump ordered that immigrants applying to migrate be put on hold until after the pandemic in order to keep the country safe from COVID. My relative has been ‘waiting in line’ for 8 years and now had to wait additional time due to the U.S. Consulate abroad being closed for interviews. Like my relative, there are many others that are waiting to be reunited with their families.”
Trump’s administration caused a great deal of harm to immigrants and especially to refugees through cruel practices such as prolonging the detainment of asylum seekers and separating migrant children from their families. These inhumane measures were an attempt to deter migration from South and Central America, but because the refugees arriving at our border had no choice but to flee the dangers in their home, these deterrent methods did not stop the flow of migration. They just showed them and the rest of the world the extent of human cruelty.