Trump Administration Proposes Changes To U.S. Asylum System

Nov 14, 2019

The Trump Administration is proposing new rules that would make some asylum seekers wait one year before they would be eligible for work and that would deny eligibility to others.

A number of asylum seekers arrived in Maine over the summer and were housed temporarily in the Portland Expo Center.
Credit Patty Wight / Maine Public File

The new rules would double the current wait time of 180 days.

University of Maine Law School professor Anna Welch, who oversees the school's refugee and human rights clinic, says the impact for certain asylum seekers would be even greater.

“Those who have come into the country illegally, so crossed the border outside a point of entry, would be ineligible to apply for a work permit while they're here seeking asylum,” she says.

The proposed rules also make other changes that will make it harder for asylees to work during the process, which can last for years. It's not clear how they might affect eligibility for public assistance during that time. In its filing, the Department of Homeland Security says that "The integrity and preservation of the U.S. asylum system takes precedence over potential economic hardship faced by alien arrivals who enjoy no legal status in the United States, whether or not those aliens may later be found to have meritorious claims."

Welch estimates there are 5,000-7,000 asylum seekers in Maine, and that many of these immigrants have skills that are needed in Maine.

“We have businesses in Maine that are shutting down because we can't find workers for them, so, again, this could be incredibly impactful to our state workforce,” Welch says.

The Department of Homeland Security filed the rules in the Federal register Thursday, with a public comment period of sixty days. Welch says if the rules implemented, they will likely face court challenges.

People who enter the United States seeking asylum are in the country legally, under U.S. law, and cannot be deported.