Washington D.C., Sep 10, 2019 / 12:08 pm (CNA).- A Catholic group is suing the Trump administration over the restriction of protections granted to asylum seekers in the U.S.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Democracy Forward, and Proskauer Rose LLP filed a lawsuit Sept. 6 arguing that the Trump administration’s new policies violate the statutory rights of asylum seekers and were issued without notice.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for D.C., also argues that the new policies were issued invalidly by Ken Cuccinnelli, who the groups claim was appointed unlawfully as head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). U.S. President Donald Trump appointed Cuccinnelli as “acting director” of USCIS after it became clear that the Senate was unlikely to confirm him as permanent director.
Cuccinnelli recently announced new measures cutting in half the amount of time granted to asylum seekers as they prepare for their interviews. Previously, those seeking asylum were granted 48 hours to meet with a lawyer and collect evidence to make their argument that they have a credible fear of persecution if they return to their homeland, a key step in their application for asylum. Now, they will have 24 hours to prepare for the interview.
In addition, continuances will largely be eliminated for those with language barriers or other claims to need more time to prepare.
These new policies deny asylum seekers reasonable access to counsel, says the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of seven asylum seekers and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit legal services group for immigrants in Texas.
Manoj Govindaiah, director of legal strategy and training for RAICES, argued that the policy changes are intentional as part of an effort to reduce the number of people seeking protection from persecution in the United States.
“These unlawful changes to longstanding policy were undertaken to ensure that asylum seekers have no true opportunity to seek refuge in the United States,” Govindaiah said.
“These directives erode the last vestiges of due process for people who have already suffered greatly and seek protection in our country,” said Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director.
She argued that the new policies violate both immigration laws and the Constitution.
“Recognizing the human dignity of all people includes honoring their right to apply for asylum,” she said. “The American people expect that when the government makes a life-or-death decision, the person affected will get their day in court.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has objected strongly to several changes in U.S. immigration policy in recent months.
After the Trump administration announced a rule limiting asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in any third-party country passed through on their way to the U.S, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, head of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, voiced “grave concerns.”
He said the rule “jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity” and that it “undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, said in a separate statement that the regulation “adds further barriers to asylum-seekers’ ability to access life-saving protection, shirks our moral duty, and will prevent the United States from taking its usual leading role in the international community as a provider of asylum protection.”
Last month, the administration announced its intent to deny green cards and a path to citizenship to immigrants in the country legally who use public benefits.
A statement from U.S. bishops’ conference leaders on domestic justice and migration criticized the announcement as being “in tension with the dignity of the person and the common good that all of us are called to support.”
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