By Christianna Silva
It seems President Donald Trump is intensifying his anti-immigrant stance. On Monday evening, he sent a memo to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr that calls for an array of sweeping changes to how the U.S. treats asylum-seekers.
“The purpose of this memorandum is to strengthen asylum procedures to safeguard our system against rampant abuse of our asylum process,” the memo reads.
In the memo, Trump ordered the attorney general and homeland security secretary to develop policies to settle asylum applications within 180 days of filing, despite immigration courts already being clogged with applicants, according to the New York Times. The president's ordered officials to ensure asylum claims are resolved in immigration court within six months – despite a backlog of more than 800,000 cases, Reuters reported. Per the memo, Trump also seeks to charge asylum seekers a fee for applications and work permit applications.
In response, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement calling the president’s memo a “despicable attack on desperate families seeking asylum” adding that it is “cruel, unprecedented and fails to address the root causes of migration.”
The memo also comes at a time of massive unrest within the administration, and the Department of Homeland Security specifically. In April, Trump fired DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who infamously defended the separation of thousands of migrant children from their families and saw two Guatemalan children die in U.S. custody during her tenure.
As it turns out, part of the memo is entirely redundant. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the immigration judges’ union, told Reuters, “The provision to process cases in 180 days has been on the books for over two decades. The problem is that we have never been given adequate resources to adjudicate those claims in a timely fashion.”
The fee in particular would block many immigrants from even applying to be granted asylum, a process meant to protect people fleeing persecution and violence in their home country, since even small fees could be insurmountable, Victoria Neilson, a former official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the Guardian.
“The majority of people coming to the United States seeking asylum are coming with little more than the shirts on their back,” she said.
If the memo goes into effect, it would also bar migrants who have entered or attempted to enter the country without documentation from receiving any work authorization before relief or protection is granted. Currently, according to Reuters, asylum seekers who enter with and without documentation can work until their claims make their way through the courts.
This memo gives the Justice and Homeland Security departments 90 days to develop the proposals, but it is unclear how long it would take before any of the rules take effect. Furthermore, it’s likely that immigration activists will take challenge Trump’s proposals in federal court, the Texas Tribune reported.
Trump, however, said that the national emergency declaration, which allowed him to go around Congress to fund a border wall, was one of the reasons he thought the memo was necessary. “That emergency continues to grow increasingly severe,” the memo reads.
If the intent is to decrease migrants flowing into the country, it likely won’t work. The number of monthly apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border is at its highest since 2007; Customs and Border Patrol reported more than 92,000 arrests of migrants who crossed over the southern border without documentation in March, according to CNN.