Trump administration rejects asylum applications for the most minor of reasons, attorneys say

Trump administration rejects asylum applications for the most minor of reasons, attorneys say
President Donald J. Trump, joined by Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan Department of Homeland Security, speaks with United States Customs and Border Protection officers along the border area of Otay Mesa, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, a neighborhood along the Mexican border in San Diego, Calif. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The Trump administration has been delaying lifesaving asylum applications for the most minor of reasons, a number of immigration attorneys tell The Guardian, returning some “over the equivalent of failing to dot an I or cross a T,” and in one instance, rejecting an application for failing to list a middle name when the applicant doesn’t even have one.

“Lindsay Harris, the co-director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia, says the government rejecting forms over a minor issue is not unheard of,” The Guardian reported. But following U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services saying in October that the agency won’t process forms that contain blank spaces, attorneys say more applications have been sent back, even when applicants appeared to have tried to follow the agency’s policy change.

One asylum-seeker had their application rejected in part “for putting a dash (‘–‘) in the space to list other names they have gone by—even though they have never gone by any other name,” The Guardian reported. Another was rejected because it didn’t list a passport expiration date even though the area was marked with an “N/A” to show the asylum-seeker entered the U.S. without one. One Salvadoran child’s application was rejected because two of the four spaces for siblings’ information were left blank. The thing is, the child has just two siblings.

“The rejection of an application by USCIS does not necessarily mean the client won’t get a chance to fix the application and send it back again,” The Guardian continues—but it does mean that the process will be delayed, and delaying has been yet another tool the Trump administration has wielded against vulnerable asylum-seekers who have been fleeing their home countries for their lives.

Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News reported that U.S. border agents had sought to prolong the stays of asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico under Trump administration policy, including outright blocking them at the border even though they’d won their asylum cases. One man who had won his case and then tried to enter the U.S. was given notice for a future court date that didn’t actually exist.

That asylum-seeker, Francisco, had survived a beating by Cuban officials before fleeing to the U.S. for safety. Francisco’s attorney Lisa Koop told BuzzFeed News, “The government’s behavior in this case and in other cases lays bare the true intent of MPP, which is quite simply to end asylum for all peoples in all circumstances. This is a Cuban dissident who was granted asylum and is being kept out—it removes the ambiguity of what motives are behind this program.”

“The fact that federal government officials are putting people at risk and forcing refugees who have been granted asylum to remain in Mexico is unacceptable,” House Democrats said in calling for an investigation into the report. “CBP officials are allegedly providing fraudulent documents to refugees who have already been adjudicated as needing protection in an effort to dissuade them from staying in the country. Even CBP Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan recently stated, ‘that [fake documents] shouldn’t be happening.’ We need immediate answers about these practices.”

In USCIS’ case, “bureaucracy as a weapon,” as The Guardian notes in its headline, is a continuation of the agency’s recent radicalization in the Trump era. “The frequency with which we’ve seen it happening … that is new, and my sense is that this is just one more way to reject asylum seekers,” Lindsay Harris of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia told The Guardian. “We’ve had multiple applications rejected lately for idiotic reasons,” Ashley Huebner of National Immigrant Justice Center tweeted. “In at least one case, USCIS then lost the refiled application.”

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