W.L., a mother seeking asylum and a native of Guatemala, is one of many asylum-seekers facing the consequences of the Trump administration’s policy changes and implementations that make it difficult for them to be eligible. Most recently, the administration has used the coronavirus pandemic to implement immediate restrictions on asylum-seekers, impacting their ability to be granted asylum and to work legally in the U.S. and support themselves. In addition, the ruling has extended the time migrants have to wait in order to request a work permit as well as the decision of whether they’ll be able to request a work permit in the first place. In detail, the rule will require migrants to wait 365 days from the day they file their asylum petition before applying for work authorization, replacing the previous 150-day timeline. It also disqualifies asylum-seekers from being able to request work permits if they crossed the border illegally. (Montoya-Galvez, 2020)
The vulnerability that follows not being able to support oneself, and even more so with a family, involves “homelessness, hunger, work exploitation and scarce access to medical care.” This leaves many with no choice but to cross the border illegally. W.L. won’t be able to apply for a work permit until April 2021, leaving her to depend on the charitable groups aiding both her and her children until then. The uncertainty of her well-being continues to afflict her, even more so now because of being an asylum seeker.
Citing her own case, W.L. pushed back on the notion that most migrants seek asylum solely to secure better economic opportunities. According to her asylum application, W.L. was repeatedly raped in Guatemala by her former boss, a powerful and wealthy lawyer. She said he first raped her when she was 19 and subsequently continued to abuse her physically and sexually, impregnating her twice and forcing her to abort one of two pregnancies (Montoya-Galvez, 2020). Compared to the previous policies, she would’ve been able to apply within a week of the date the CBS article was posted. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security has no interest in the self-sufficiency of asylum-seekers, going as low as to suggest the resources provided by states if it came down to that.
In response to public comments saying the rule could leave asylum applicants unable to pay for housing, the department said those concerned about becoming homeless “should become familiar with the homelessness resources provided by the state where they intend to reside” (Montoya-Galvez, 2020).
The immediate urgency for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to handle the coronavirus pandemic within U.S. borders has led to far more restrictions on migrants seeking asylum. The Trump administration’s actions are of particular concern to those fleeing from domestic or gang violence due to an alarming increase in being turned down by border patrols who deemed their fears not “reasonably believable,” leading to being deported. The administration is no stranger to putting the rights and protection of women seeking asylum on the line, as seen in 2018 with the reversal of the Matter A-B- case, “[former Attorney General Jeff Sessions] reversed the grant of asylum to a Salvadoran woman who fled horrific sexual and domestic violence at the hands of her then-husband” (Chang Newell, 2018). In late 2018, a decision impeded the Trump administration’s policies; Congress found the policies being applied to credible fear proceedings unlawful and were therefore blocked going forward. The fear today, due to the strict coronavirus restrictions, comes from women fleeing persecution due to their gender. As is the case with W.L., from having their only means of safety being stripped away from them and forcing them to consider returning to their country where they continue to face danger.
After her son was born, W.L. said the father, her alleged abuser, refused to support him financially. She filed a case in family court. That’s when the threats by her alleged abuser’s family started, according to the asylum application. W.L. said she filed a police report, but the threats continued, prompting her to trek north to the U.S. southern border with her son, who is now 8 years old. (Montoya-Galvez, 2020)
Current litigation (in which W.L. is named in) has brought attention to the legitimacy of these policies, specifically the changes in extended timing for work authorization, in the case CASA de Maryland, Inc. v. Wolf. It has called into question the tenure of the Department of Homeland Security’s Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, due to non-compliance with lawful procedure with respect to the Senate. Chad Wolf’s tenure is found to be unlawful, the asylum rules implemented under his jurisdiction “must have no force or effect.” As of now, the case is waiting for a date for an Oral Argument. Along with the pending federal suit, the plaintiffs’ requested for a preliminary injunction to stop these two rules from going into effect 60 days after publication–respectively by August 21 and August 25 2020. (immigrantjustice.org, 2020)
For many, including W.L., the hope is that these policies are successfully challenged in order to ensure their ability to provide basic necessities for themselves and their children as a way to reassure safety. W.L. is optimistic, stating: “I hope, I pray to God, that I get a positive response. I can’t return to my country. My situation is very complicated,” she added. “In my country, we don’t have the safety we need.” (Montoya-Galvez, 2020)
Montoya-Galvez, Camilo. “U.S. Restricts Work Permits for Asylum-Seekers, Raising Fears of Homelessness and Hunger.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 25 Aug. 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/work-permits-asylum-seekers-trump-administration-rule/?fbclid=IwAR25htZjJDuRIg0R5TXdDxKrTWX-IB19bjjrT3bzyJEgwnvHsIJEZBvgU6Y.
“Over 180 Rights Groups Urge Trump Administration to Halt Border Expulsions, Protect Domestic Violence Survivors.” Human Rights Watch, 16 Apr. 2020, www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/16/over-180-rights-groups-urge-trump-administration-halt-border-expulsions-protect.
Newell, Jennifer Chang. “Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Policy Gutting Asylum for People Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence.” American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, 24 Sept. 2019, www.aclu.org/blog/immigrants-rights/federal-judge-blocks-trumps-policy-gutting-asylum-people-fleeing-domestic-and.
Miller, Nickole. “Opinion | Trump’s New Rules against Asylum Seekers Are Dire. They Must Be Challenged.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 June 2020, https://www.theusconstitution.org/litigation/casa-de-maryland-inc-v-chad-wolf/