Dokken: Kill Me Softly

The proposed changes to the U.S. asylum policy undermine its core purpose.

by Natalie Dokken | 7/24/20 2:35am

In June, the Department of Homeland Security released draft amendments to the United States’ asylum policy. The 161-page document recommends narrowing the definition of persecution, and subsequently, the grounds for asylum in the United States. 

Currently, a substantiated threat of violence on the basis of one’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion is sufficient grounds for asylum.

If the proposed amendments were implemented, the threat of violence would no longer be grounds for asylum. Rather, an act of violence must have already been carried out against the asylum seeker before asylum can be granted. 

Asylum is designed to protect individuals from being persecuted by giving them the means to leave their country and flee those who are threatening violence against them, ideally before any serious harm is inflicted. If passed, the amendments would turn the asylum process into a means of ending persecution instead of preventing it. 

While these changes may seem logical — in the effect that the government would want to be certain they are granting entry to someone who actually needs asylum — the fact remains that experiencing prior harm has never been a requirement for asylum to be granted. This new change represents an ill-founded and unnecessary shift towards stricter immigration policy at the expense of the wellbeing of prospective asylum seekers. 

The unintended consequence of these changes is that the United States would be complicit in the murder, harm and torture of asylum seekers who are denied entry due to the narrowed definition of threat. This would represent a massive, inexcusable failure to fulfill America’s commitment to protecting the world’s most vulnerable.

The recommended changes also seek to implement bureaucratic barriers and evidentiary burdens that stand to unduly prohibit three key groups from seeking asylum: women fleeing domestic violence, members of the LGBTQ community and those fleeing gang violence.

The proposal outlines nine groups for who “without additional evidence” would be considered ineligible for asylum. These groups include people involved in “interpersonal disputes of which governmental authorities were unaware or uninvolved,” people who were previously involved in criminal activity and those who are seeking asylum due to cultural differences. 

While some of these categorizations may seem logical, such as prohibiting previous criminals from entering the U.S., it denies a person entry for a characteristic that they cannot change and a lifestyle that is often adopted out of survival. Moreover, previous gang affiliation leaves those trying to leave their gangs behind with nowhere else to turn and in serious danger.

Women who are seeking asylum from their abusers would also be ineligible under these changes if they are fleeing from a country in which reporting domestic abuse is not an option. If women don’t report their abuse to authorities, this would bar them from asylum as it would fall under the classification of “interpersonal disputes of which governmental authorities were unaware or uninvolved.” 

For LGBTQ people, they must be able to demonstrate that any persecution they are facing is not the result of a country’s cultural standards on gender and sexuality. For example, if a gay teenager is beaten for acting in a traditionally “feminine” way, under these guidelines it would be up to the judge to decide whether or not the beatings were the result of specific cultural norms.  

Ultimately, the changes outlined in this proposal would create an asylum system that fails to protect the very groups it was designed to protect. Implementing them would be an abhorrent failure to protect the most vulnerable. To say no to asylum seekers because they haven’t been brutalized or traumatized in a manner that checks the right boxes is reprehensible. To say no to asylum seekers because of semantics — that we acknowledge their life is in danger but we don’t like the circumstances — is elitist and cruel. 

These changes are an affront to the very ideals that this country was founded upon. How can we say we say we stand for freedom, that we are the land of opportunity, when we deny these things to the very people who need it the most? How can we say we are proud Americans when it is America that is needlessly turning away domestic violence survivors and victims of torture and abuse? If we wish to stand firm in our morals, to put our money where our mouth is, these proposed changes to asylum policy must not pass.