Victims of gang violence hope Biden’s new asylum rules will provide safe haven

Carolina, from Honduras, holds her son in her arms as he arrives in the United States after crossing the Rio Grande in a raft guided by Mexican smugglers on March 28, 2021 in Roma, Texas.

Carolina, originally from Honduras, holds her son as he arrives in the United States after crossing the Rio Grande in a raft guided by Mexican smugglers on March 28, 2021 in Roma, Texas. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images.

Tens of thousands of Central American immigrants who are victims of gang violence and domestic violence now have a better chance of obtaining asylum in the United States thanks to a new policy change that has sweeping implications for how the United States treats vulnerable people seeking refuge there.

Two Justice Department rulings overturned one of former US President Donald Trump’s most draconian immigration policies by restoring provisions that give survivors of gangs and domestic violence a shot at asylum .

The change is one of the Biden administration’s most significant and could serve as a balm for activists who accuse the president of not acting fast enough to reverse Trump’s anti-immigrant policies that have made it harder for migrants to enter. in the United States and also to obtain asylum after arrival.

The new policy is likely to increase the approval rate for asylum claims, which fell to historically low levels under the Trump administration, immigration experts have said. Significantly, migrants arriving at the southern border of the United States might also have a better chance of entering on the grounds that they face credible fear in their home country.

“The decision will have a huge effect on people who arrive at the border and seek protection who will no longer be forced to meet a much higher standard than that which had never been applied to asylum seekers in the past,” he said. said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy adviser at the American Immigration Council, a left-wing think tank.

Obtaining asylum has become exponentially more difficult under the Trump administration. More than 70 percent of asylum claims were refused in 2020, during Trump’s last year in office, compared to a refusal rate of 54 percent, the last year of the Obama administration, according to the university of Syracuse. Transactional Document Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which monitors asylum requests.

The new policy applies to all asylum seekers, but it is likely to have a disproportionate impact on Central Americans, where gangs and domestic violence are among the main drivers of migration. According to a 2017 report According to Doctors Without Borders, about 11 percent of people fleeing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been victims of domestic violence. And nearly 40% cited “direct attacks or threats against themselves by their family, extortion or forced recruitment by gangs as the main reason for their flight.”

Among them are people like Carlos René, 39, who left Honduras in March 2019 due to gang threats. He owned a small convenience store and was forced to pay gang extortion fees to continue operating it. But he stopped paying.

“If you don’t pay the gang’s fees, they’ll kill you,” he said.

After reaching the United States four months later, René and his daughter were returned to Mexico under a Trump administration policy that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration files were processed. was decided. Biden reversed that policy and René said he hoped to know this week when they could enter the United States.

He had not heard of the latest policy change regarding the reasons for being granted asylum, but said: “We want to do things legally … We just want to come in and find help.”

The Justice Department framed the policy change in human and radical terms. “These decisions raise important questions about the meaning of our nation’s asylum laws, which reflect America’s commitment to providing refuge for some of the world’s most vulnerable people,” the Associate Attorney General wrote. Vanita Gupta in a note to immigration judges.

Under the new regulations, René will now have a chance to gain asylum due to the gang violence he has suffered. “It doesn’t mean that they will get it, just that they will be eligible,” said Austin Kocher, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who studies immigration policy.

Yet the outcome of specific cases will likely depend as much on the immigration judge they appear before as on new guidelines from the Justice Department, he warned.

Immigration judges have wide discretion to decide asylum cases, resulting in huge disparities. At the New York immigration court, for example, refusal rates “ranged from 95% to 3%” according to the judge, according to data from TRAC.

More than half of the immigration judges currently in office have been appointed by the Trump administration. “Whether or not this policy change results in a change in approval rates will depend in part on how these judges put that into practice,” Kocher said.

In Mexico and Central America, news of the new policy quickly spread on Facebook groups dedicated to migrants. Some migrant rights activists in Central America have said they fear smugglers, aided by sloppy reporting in local news, could distort the movement into a new selling point for people considering traveling to the United States. .

“This is going to be a boom in the local media, and if the message is not conveyed properly, we are going to see people leaving the country,” said Karen Valladares, director of migrant rights organization FONAMIH at Honduras. The smugglers “will use this information for their own personal gain.”

In the coming months, the Biden administration is expected to roll out new guidelines that will clarify asylum eligibility and bring politics closer to internationally accepted standards.

According to reportsThe Biden administration also plans to make procedural changes that would ensure that many asylum seekers detained at the border have their cases reviewed by an asylum officer, only going to a judge if the claim is successful. rejected.

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