A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Sessions Rescinds Asylum-Seekers Ability to Work

America has always opened its door to people who escape persecution from other countries.  The Statute of Liberty still stands tall in the New York Harbor and, at its base, is still ingrained with Emma Lazarus's words "Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." While these words are set in stone, our immigration policy is rather fluid and changes constantly based on our current politics, economics, and "general feelings" about foreigners.  Our present policy is clearly one of restriction, as demonstrated by the newest announcement by the Attorney General that asylum seekers' ability to work will be taken away.

Many refugees came to America because of political and religious persecution, while some others foreigners may come here for economic opportunities.  Regardless of their true intentions, when foreigners arrive at our shore and seek asylum, we always give them an opportunity to state their case. We would offer protection if they meet the legal standards. Otherwise we reject their applications. While they are waiting to have their cases heard, our policy has been to allow them to stay and work here temporarily. 

Recently, many Obama-era immigration guidances have been dropped through the authority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. One of the notable scrapped guidances was issued in 2011 which allowed asylum-seekers to work indefinitely and have a social security number. The same guidance restricted employers from requesting specific ID and immigration documents as proof of employment eligibility. Another dropped guidance, from 2009, mandated that employers not discriminate by immigration status when hiring. These changes allow employers to make hiring decisions based on applicants' immigration status and documents. 

There is a historical context behind this issue. In the past few decades, applying for asylum was basically the only way for the undocumented foreigners to obtain employment authorization. Many of them were lured, sometimes unknowingly, to submit asylum applications so that they may obtain EADs. Abuse of the asylum system has compromised its integrity and buried legitimate cases. The number of people that applied for asylum peaked in 2016 at around 180,000.

On a similar note, the backlog of cases in immigration courts has grown immensely in the past decade. As of May 2018 it has peaked to over 700,000 cases and eliminating this backlog is among Sessions' top priorities. He is aiming to do this by diminishing the employment incentive for illegitimate applicants. There is now a 180-day waiting period between applying for asylum and getting an EAD, but rescinding of the 2011 guidance will remove the benefit altogether. 

With these changes, the benefits of asylum-seekers are severely limited. Losing the ability to work and equal employment opportunities in the U.S. would certainly discourage economic refugees from coming here, but it would also make it very difficult for legitimate asylum seekers to survive while waiting for their claims to be reviewed. 

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