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Biden's Asylum Bar

July 05, 2023 (11 min read)

Hon. Jeffrey S. Chase, July 5, 2023

"I’m sure many of you remember a childhood game called “Mother, May I?” An authority figure would say, “Jeff, take two giant steps forward!” But before doing so, the player would have to ask “Mother, may I?” Those two giant steps could only be taken if the response was “Yes, you may.” Otherwise, if the player took the steps, they were out.

If we were to take this game, direct the request and reply through an app called CBPOne, and make the stakes life or death, the result would be something very similar to the Biden Administration’s latest regulations governing asylum at the southern border.

The new rules are at odds with U.S. law. Congress has already authorized asylum seekers to take the necessary steps up to the border. The very first sentence of 8 U.S.C. § 1158 (the U.S. asylum statute) says that any noncitizen “whether or not at a designated port of arrival” and irrespective of their immigration status may apply for asylum.

And yet, not Congress but two Executive Branch agencies have now added a “Mother, May I?” type obstacle for those seeking to do what the law has long permitted. Under the new rules, the asylum seeker must first ask through a glitchy government phone app for specific permission (in the form of an appointment) before striding up to the border. Otherwise, the asylum seeker is simply not eligible for asylum, no matter how serious the danger they face if removed to their country.

How can Executive Branch agencies issue regulations that so directly contradict the statute those agencies are charged with enforcing? That question is the basis of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies in U.S. District Court.1

Our Round Table of Former Immigration Judges filed an amicus brief in support of petitioners’ arguments. We are in good company, as the USCIS asylum officers’ union filed a persuasive amicus brief as well.2 This means that groups representing the views of the only government officials authorized to decide asylum claims in this country (i.e. immigration judges and asylum officers) are united in opposing the new rule.

In our Round Table brief, we specifically take issue with the government’s false labeling of the new bar as merely a “rebuttable presumption” of asylum ineligibility.

Real rebuttable presumptions have long existed in our asylum regulations. For example, there is a rebuttable presumption that someone who has been persecuted in the past for reasons that give rise to an asylum claim may be persecuted again, unless major changes have since taken place in their country. There is also a presumption that one whose persecutor is the government of their country can’t find safety by simply relocating within that same country.

As you’ve probably noticed, there is a logic that flows in each of those examples from the known facts to the presumption. It is logical to assume that someone who was harmed before might be harmed again if conditions remain the same. The government may rebut the presumption by showing a fundamental change of the type that would put those fears to rest. There is a similar logic in concluding that a government’s reach extends throughout the country it governs. Again, the government may rebut that presumption through evidence establishing an exception to this general rule. In both of these examples, the fact established increases the likelihood of the fact presumed.

Now let’s return to the new rule. Say that a person faces brutal persecution on account of their political opinion if returned to their country. How does the fact that they couldn’t or didn’t get an appointment through a phone app in any way create a presumption that they are not in need of humanitarian protection? There can’t be a presumption if the fact established (i.e. that the person didn’t obtain an appointment through the app) is completely unrelated to the fact presumed (i.e. the person is not in need of asylum).

I believe it matters greatly whether the rule is considered a bar or a presumption. It is Congress that decides who may apply for asylum in this country. Thus, a regulation that admittedly creates a new bar to asylum (particularly where that bar is in direct contradiction to Congressional intent) is likely to be rejected as ultra vires by the courts. And in fact, a very similar bar to this one published by the Trump Administration was enjoined for just that reason.3 Agencies cannot usurp Congress’s role by legislating in the guise of rulemaking.

By attempting to disguise the new bar as merely a “rebuttable presumption,” the agencies seek to increase the odds of the ban passing muster this time. That is exactly the Department of Justice’s argument in its response brief: that its new rule is completely different from the prior administration’s “bar,” because according to DOJ, the new rule “does not treat manner of entry as dispositive, but instead creates a rebuttable presumption that can be overcome…”4 

So the “Mother, may I?” regs clearly overstep the agencies’ legal authority. But do they create an equal barrier for all asylum seekers? The answer is no. As stated, the rules require one intending to apply for asylum to first obtain an appointment. Of course, there are more asylum seekers than there are available appointments. As mentioned, the government app through which one tries to secure an appointment, CBPOne, is full of glitches. As Prof. Austin Kocher recently noted, those glitches have impacted who gets those appointments:

the initial release of CBP One was accompanied by a variety of tech failures that did not necessarily undermine CBP’s ability to fill up its appointments calendar for asylum seekers but did create barriers to entry for migrants who were less tech savvy, could not access high-speed Internet, were part of larger families, or, either directly or indirectly, migrants who were darker-skinned or Black.5

That last point refers to the app’s problems with facial recognition that have caused it to reject applicants who are not white.6 As a result of these and other reported scheduling inequities, Sen. Edward Markey wrote to DHS back in February urging the agency to cease use of the app, due to its inaccessibility to many intending applicants, adding that “we cannot allow it to create a tiered system that treats asylum seekers differently based on their economic status — including the ability to pay for travel — language, nationality, or race.”.7

Instead of “ditching the app” as the Senator requested, the agencies instead added an exception to the bar if the noncitizen “demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that it was not possible to access or use the DHS scheduling system due to language barrier, illiteracy, significant technical failure, or other ongoing and serious obstacle.”8

However, there is a big catch. Pursuant to the rule, this exception is only available to those without an appointment who make their claim at an actual port of entry.  But observers at points of entry along the southern border report that “practices by U.S. and Mexican authorities restricted asylum seekers without CBP One appointments from physically reaching U.S. ports of entry to make protection requests.”9 So the exception written into the regs is not available in reality, as one seeking to claim it is restricted from reaching the port of entry where it must be claimed, and is barred from claiming the exception if they cross the border elsewhere.

If you’re wondering how the new system is working out, according to one report, it has resulted in asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the Laredo port of entry being robbed, kidnapped, and held for ransom.10 Another article described how some of  those “lucky” enough to have obtained CBPOne appointments at Laredo claimed “that Mexican officials in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, had threatened to hold them and make them miss their scheduled asylum appointments unless they paid them.”11 As a result, CBPOne appointments were temporarily suspended for the Laredo port of entry.

One excluded from asylum under these rules may still seek two types of lesser protections called withholding of removal.12 Oddly, under U.S. law, these alternative protections are much more difficult than asylum to qualify for, yet provide far fewer benefits. Asylum is an actual legal status which extends to the spouse and minor children of the asylee, allows for travel abroad, and puts recipients on a path to permanent residence and then citizenship in this country. By contrast, withholding of removal arises when an individual is ordered deported, and only blocks their deportation to a country in which persecution or torture is likely to occur, but otherwise leaves the recipient in limbo. The protection provides no path to family reunification or permanent status, and no right to travel abroad to visit the family members from whom the recipient is left indefinitely separated.

Nevertheless, withholding of removal does save lives. But not satisfied with simply barring asylum, the new regulations also make these lesser forms of protection far more difficult to access. This is because one must first pass something called a “credible fear interview” in order to even have the right to apply for withholding of removal in this country. As those interviews are conducted within days of the asylum-seeker’s arrival, in custody, often before the applicant has had the opportunity to obtain legal counsel or evidence, and possibly while suffering from the effects of persecution, the credible fear standard was intentionally designed to be a low one. The idea is to allow people who might genuinely be at risk the opportunity to fully develop their cases in a full removal proceeding, while only quickly removing those lacking legitimate claims.

But the new regulations raise the burden of proof by requiring the applicant at this very early stage to demonstrate a “reasonable fear” of persecution, which USCIS describes as the exact same standard required for a grant of asylum - i.e. “well-founded fear.13 Again, the lower credible fear standard being replaced was created solely because it isn’t reasonable to expect someone to prove more under the conditions faced by such recent arrivals. This intended safeguard has thus been completely undermined, as one who might only be a day or two in the country must now present a full-blown asylum claim just to earn the chance to have a hearing.

The new process requires non-lawyers to satisfy a complex legal standard they won’t understand, often without the time to seek legal advice or compile the evidence necessary to meet the heightened burden. I have no doubt that the process will result in genuine refugees being denied protection. And once again, the entire reason for placing applicants at such heightened risk is their not having obtained an appointment on a problematic phone app.

Why does the Biden Administration believe all this is necessary? In a recent column, Jamelle Bouie addressed the vows of some Republican presidential candidates to eliminate the constitutional right to birthright citizenship through executive order.14 In addition to presenting a compelling argument as to why this cannot legally be done, Bouie included in his column a wonderful quote from Frederick Douglass: “The outspread wings of the American Eagle are broad enough to shelter all who are likely to come.”

In case the Biden Administration is wondering if it can champion that same sentiment today, in lieu of its convoluted attempt to ban protection to those deserving of it under our laws, the answer is: “Yes, you may.”

(Much thanks to attorneys Ashley Vinson Crawford and Steven Schulman of the law firm of Akin Gump for representing the group of former Immigration Judges and BIA Members on our amicus brief in East Bay Sanctuary.)

Copyright 2023, Jeffrey S. Chase. All rights reserved.


  1. East Bay Sanctuary Covenant v. Biden, No. 18-cv-06810-JST, N.D. Cal. (Filed May 11, 2023).

  2. See Britain Eakin, “Asylum Officers, Ex-Judges Back Suit on Biden Asylum Rule,” Law360, June 8, 2023.

  3. East Bay Sanctuary v. Barr, 964 F.3d 832 (9th Cir. 2020) (holding that the Trump Administration’s asylum bar was inconsistent with our asylum laws).

  4. Defendants’ Reply Brief, East Bay Sanctuary v. Biden, (June 30, 2023) at 8.

  5. Austin Kocher, “Glitches in the Digitization of Asylum: How CBP One Turns Migrants’ Smartphones into Mobile Borders,”, June 20, 2023,, section 4.

  6. Melissa del Bosque, “Facial Recognition Bias Frustrates Black Asylum Applicants to US,” The Guardian, Feb. 8, 2023,

  7. “Senator Markey Calls on DHS to Ditch Mobile App Riddled With Glitches, Privacy Problems, For Asylum Seekers,”

  8. 8 C.F.R. § 1208.33(a)(2)(ii)(B).

  9. International Rescue Committee, “Limits on Access to Asylum After Title 42: One Month of Monitoring U.S.-Mexico Border Ports of Entry” (June 2023),

  10. Sandra Sanchez, “Kidnappings, Extortion End CBP Asylum Interviews at Laredo-Nuevo Laredo Border Crossing,” Border Report, June 14, 2023,

  11. Valerie Gonzalez and Julie Watson, “U.S. Halts Online Asylum Appointments at Texas Crossing After Extortion Warnings,” A.P., June 12, 2023,

  12. One form of withholding covers persecution for specified reasons; the other applies to torture.

  13. See Asylum Officer Basic Training Course Lesson Plan, “Reasonable Fear and Torture Determinations,” (USCIS, RAIO, 2017) at 11 (“The ‘reasonable possibility’ standard is the same standard required to establish eligibility for asylum (the ‘well- founded fear’ standard).”)

  14. Jamelle Bouie, “Opinion: What Frederick Douglass Knew That Trump and DeSantis Don’t,” NYT, June 30, 2023."


Jeffrey S. Chase is an immigration lawyer in New York City.  Jeffrey is a former Immigration Judge and Senior Legal Advisor at the Board of Immigration Appeals. He is the founder of the Round Table of Former Immigration Judges, which was awarded AILA’s 2019 Advocacy Award. Jeffrey is also a past recipient of AILA’s Pro Bono Award. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Association of Deportation Defense Attorneys, and Central American Legal Assistance.