On Monday, I met my dear friend Farida at the Soft Landing office. We awkwardly drank tea, shared sweet treats, and giggled 6 feet apart from behind masks. When she called me the night before, I was hesitant to meet with her, knowing the renewed COVID risks, but she really wanted to come in and see us; she was lonely and Monday was her birthday. COVID isolation has taken a toll on everyone, but for Farida–a social, single woman who lives alone and spends her days working three jobs–it has been excruciating. Seven years ago, Farida was forced to leave her family, her children, and everything she knew behind in Afghanistan as she fled for her life. Once she was in the U.S. she was able to apply for asylum through a credible fear interview (the same interview ALL people seeking asylum and refuge start with) and qualified to be considered for asylum based on the same five categories that any refugee is evaluated on: fear of death or persecution due to Race, Religion, Nationality, Political Opinion, or Participation in a Particular Social Group. Last year, with much rejoicing, over 6 years from when she applied, she was finally granted asylum here in Missoula. That was just the first step towards her dream of reuniting with her children. With her blessing, I am telling you this story today because the process that gave Farida a safe home and another chance at life–Asylum–faces increasing threats on a nearly daily basis. At the bottom of this statement, after an explanation of the whats and whys, we will tell you how you can help by submitting a comment by July 15th at 11am MT. Pressed for time and up to date on the situation? Submit one here now 😉 and every day till the deadline.
Asylum. What is Asylum and why is it important? In the most simple terms, asylum offers a path to safety for individuals and families seeking refuge from fear of persecution or death. There is very little difference, other than the location of claim, that differentiates someone seeking asylum from that of a refugee. In fact, once an asylum claim is approved, that person gains “refugee status”. As an organization with a mission to assist refugees, including asylees, we are horrified that new U.S. policies at the border are denying life-saving assistance to vulnerable men, women, and children–assistance that we as a nation have committed to for generations, time and time again. Additionally, the administration has recently proposed new changes that affect not only those at the border in need, but also the tens of thousands of other people seeking asylum in other locations in the U.S., just as Farida did.
Today, as refugee resettlement is threatened by the declining arrival ceiling, asylum is also under attack. The slow erosion of these programs has been underway for a long time, as we have seen amendments and regulations rolled out by this administration gutting our ability both as individuals and as a nation to help people in need. In dire need. The most visible place we see this occurring for asylees is at our southern border with the new MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) or “Remain in Mexico” policies that are putting tens of thousands of people and families at further risk of kidnapping, sexual assault, horrific conditions, and yes, COVID. If you can read more at this time, this article is a good place to start, these short stories will drive home the life-threatening situation, and this piece will help you understand the further threat of COVID at the border due to MPP. If you have reached your capacity with print journalism, I would highly suggest this Pulitzer-winning episode by the podcast This American Life. On top of MPP at the US-Mexico border, we have also seen refugee resettlement close to halted, citing COVID risk expressed through open-ended and vague language that sets a dangerous precedent for an undefined amount of time.
But it goes on. Even with the MPP in place and asylum at the border essentially halted, the attack has not ended. Today we enter the last 7 days of a 30 day comment period related to the new proposed rules to further gut asylum in the U.S. These new rules will eliminate not only protection for women like Farida who have fled due to severe domestic violence that goes unchecked by the law in her home country, but for hundreds of thousands of people currently seeking asylum whose claims would be impossible to approve under the new regulations–both at the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere in the U.S. The Boston Globe Editorial Board writes, “These proposed regulations, detailed in a 161-page document and subject to a 30-day public comment period, amount to a clear abdication of America’s humanitarian tradition of welcoming the most vulnerable populations, like women and children fleeing severe domestic violence and LGBTQ asylum-seekers facing deadly persecution. The rules dramatically aim to redefine the meaning of asylum, creating new standards that amount to insurmountable barriers.”
The new rules would amount to us never having been given the chance to meet Farida. I can’t imagine our community without her, just as I can’t imagine a world in which we, in good conscience, could have turned her away.
As Natalie Nanasi, immigration attorney and Professor of Law, says in this op-ed, “ From the outset, U.S. asylum law was intended to be an expansive and rights-protective doctrine. But the Trump administration has used every tool at its disposal (including some that have proven to be beyond its lawful reach) to curtail access and restrict those rights.” I LOVE that we live in a country that would create an “expansive and rights-protective document” aimed toward a simple truth that all humans are deserving of a safe existence (with painful acknowledgement of the complexities and downfalls of our nation to do this for our own BIPOC citizens). I do think that however flawed a nation we live in, providing refuge and asylum for the world’s most vulnerable has for a long time been a cornerstone of our global and humanitarian leadership. It is what defines the United States in many ways. The proposed changes layer destruction on top of insult on top of eradication of this identity, put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, and erode the core values and founding principles of this country (Again, however flawed the realization of these goals and values- let’s keep working on that!).
There are vast amounts of information and resources out there regarding these proposed rule changes (I have included many links here!), yet there are so many very important things going on in the current news cycle (BLM, COVID resurgence) that this has been all but drowned out. We at Soft Landing didn’t even truly realize the extent of this until just a few days ago. To reiterate, this will decimate our asylum system. It will be the nail in the coffin. Please take 5 minutes every day until July 15th to do one of the only things we can do right now- use our voices to speak out in support of the basic human right to a safe life without fear of persecution. At the very least, we can flood the system with comments that would delay the decision to put into action these unconscionable new restrictions forcing people into further danger.
HOW TO ACT–
*Some of the action items below come from Hearts and Homes for refugees, CWS, and HIAS. Thank you to these great organizations for providing this guidance.*
Between now and 1 p.m. on July 15 the public can comment on these proposed changes, which include:
Completely barring granting of asylum on the basis of gender
Changing the very definition of “persecution”
Redefining some of the core grounds for asylum claims, including membership in a “particular social group,” which could have a dire impact on women and LGBTQ individuals fleeing violence and persecution.
Denying asylum to people who transited through other countries on their way to the United States
Denying asylum seekers basic due process and their day in court by allowing immigration judges to decide cases based solely on written applications
Here is an even more in depth bulleted list of the negative effects of these proposed rules.
Instead of the typical 60-day comment period, the administration is only allowing 30 days, seeking to execute this inhumane plan as quickly as possible.
THREE ACTIONS TO TAKE TODAY AND EVERY DAY UNTIL JULY 15
1. Submit a public comment:
Learn more here: Click to comment and submit your comment to the administration today! The click-to-comment campaign will close at 11 a.m MT (1 p.m. ET) Wednesday, July 15. It is ESSENTIAL to use your own language. “Copy-paste” comments are identified by software and deleted from consideration. If you want to use some of the above language to make your point- that is fine, but just remember to add your own opinions about why you support a strong U.S. asylum system and why you oppose the proposed changes. For example, why does abolishing the U.S. asylum system violate your Faith values? Does your family have a refugee story? Are you friends with someone who is an asylum seeker or was granted asylum? Do you work/volunteer with refugees? Have you seen firsthand how refugees contribute to your community?)
2. Take the #Comments4Asylum pledge:
After submitting your comment, take the #Comments4Asylum pledge and get three other people to join you. You can reach out one-on-one or tag people on social media! We will also be posting this information on Facebook and Instagram over the coming week for you to share easily with your friends- or share this whole email if you like.
Sample social media post: I have submitted a comment against the administration’s plan to end asylum. I am pledging to get three others to speak out for those seeking safety too! Click to comment [Insert handle][Insert handle][Insert handle] Join me: #Comments4Asylum
3. Write a personalized letter:
Send a handwritten letter to the administration about why the U.S. must protect asylum seekers. Use your own experiences, stories, perspectives, values and research. Handwritten letters and other unique comments are key to helping slow down this cruel plan. Note: you can comment online AND send a letter, there is no limit.
To count, the letter must reference: “DHS/EOIR; RIN 1125-AA94; EOIR Docket No. 18-0002.” For example, a good start would be: “I am writing to share my strong opposition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Joint Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal; Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear Review; RIN 1615-AC42 / 1125-AA94 / EOIR Docket No. 18-0002/ A.G. Order No. 4714-2020.”
The letter must be postmarked by July 15, 2020.
Lauren Alder Reid, Assistant Director
Office of Policy
Executive Office for Immigration Review
5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 1800,
Falls Church, VA 22041
*Additional action! Take a picture of your letter and share it on social media using the #Comments4Asylum hashtag!
So, thank you so much for bearing with us on this incredibly long but important statement and call to action. We are always so grateful, not just for your support, but for your ACTION. You guys know how to get stuff done, so please join us in getting as many comments submitted as possible to delay and STOP these horrific changes to asylum rules.
In love and gratitude,
ED Soft Landing Missoula