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NIJC, Jan. 8, 2021
"Immigration legal service providers are joining together to sue the U.S. government agency that oversees immigration courts to block a Trump administration rule that would create insurmountable obstacles for people applying for asylum in the United States.
The rule, scheduled to take effect on January 15, is one of an onslaught of new regulations the Trump administration has finalized during its last weeks in office as a culmination to its four-year campaign to dismantle the U.S. immigration system. The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) published the final rule in December 2020, following a truncated 30-day comment period which ended in October. The rule creates insidious procedural hurdles for people who have fled to the United States to seek safety from persecution. Among those new barriers: reducing the existing one-year deadline to only 15 days for people to submit asylum applications after their first hearings; allowing the U.S. government to reject an asylum application if any questions on the form are left blank or the form is not accompanied by a proof of payment of a new $50 application fee; permitting immigration judges, who should be neutral arbiters, to submit their own evidence in a person’s case or to favor evidence authored by the U.S. government; and creating other arbitrary deadlines for the asylum adjudication process that will inevitably harm people seeking protection.
Plaintiffs in the case are the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) in Chicago, Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. Jones Day is providing pro bono counsel in the case, NIJC v. EOIR, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The plaintiff organizations issued the following statements:
Sarah Thompson, senior litigation attorney, National Immigrant Justice Center: “In its dwindling days, the Trump administration has used regulations rather than bricks to finish building its wall blocking access to the United States. In December, the administration finalized six rules that will all but eliminate access to asylum in the United States and permanently undermine the fairness of proceedings in immigration courts. If these rules are allowed to take effect, their cost will be long-lasting, and permanent for asylum seekers, including people NIJC represents, who will inevitably die when they are barred from their right to protection and returned to the places where their lives are in danger.”
Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director, Immigrant Defenders Law Center: “In four years the Trump administration has completely dismantled the asylum system in the US. This rule would be the nail in the coffin for thousands of asylum seekers who are at immediate risk of harm and death if returned to their home countries. Implementation of this rule will destroy the already decimated illusion of due process in our legal system. ImmDef joins with our partners in this lawsuit to halt this rule with the hope that it will give our clients and other asylum seekers a fighting chance at being able to seek safety.”
Laura St. John, legal director, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project: “This rule illegally and immorally prioritizes alleged efficiency over due process and basic human rights. Particularly for those who are detained, this rule creates tremendous bureaucratic hurdles that effectively will eviscerate our clients' right to seek protection. Every person in removal proceedings deserves a fair day in court and nowhere is that more true than where cases have very real life or death consequences, but under this rule people will be denied their rights based on trivialities and technicalities.”
Linda Rivas, executive director, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center: “The past few weeks our staff has tried to file I-589s for as many clients as possible in anticipation of the new asylum rule being implemented. There has been virtually no time for anything else. Shelters in Mexico housing people in the Migration Protection Protocols program have begged us for help. We have had to turn them away. I am terrified this will be the new normal under this rule and it will greatly diminish the number of people we can serve and the quality of our work. This must be stopped.”
Brooke Bischoff, managing attorney, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center: “This rule is cruelty cloaked in the veil of efficiency. It attempts to prevent as many people as possible from pursuing asylum claims by enacting a waterfall of nonsensical new requirements that make it easier to throw asylum claims out of court without giving asylum seekers the chance to even present their case. The rule’s alleged efficiency comes at the terrible cost of condemning innumerable survivors of torture and persecution to continued suffering for things as minor as leaving a single question on a form blank or being unable to pay a $50 filing fee.”