William Barr Finds a New Way to Punish Asylum Seekers

Trump Administration

The Trump administration just keeps coming up with new, horrifying ways to fuck with desperate people seeking asylum from their home countries in the U.S. Their latest attempt comes from Attorney General William Barr, who issued an order today that would prevent asylum seekers from asking for bail, instead keeping them in jail while they await the processing of their requests, according to the New York Times.

Add this new atrocity to the list, which includes forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, trying to prevent them from entering the country and applying asylum altogether, and charging a fee to apply for asylum.

This order, which will go into effect in 90 days, would not impact asylum seekers crossing into the U.S. at ports of entry, but those who are caught crossing at other points along the border. It would still allow migrants to request a grant of parole, which then would be up to the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. It’s highly unlikely that those requests would be granted.

The new policy comes via a case involving an Indian man who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico to claim asylum. In such cases, Barr wrote, an asylum seeker, “after establishing a credible fear of persecution or torture, is ineligible for release on bond.”

This upends the status quo of the last ten years, in which asylum seekers who could prove “credible fear” of persecution at home have been allowed a bond hearing to request release on bail. Their cases can often take months or years to be heard.

Barr’s order also goes against a decision by a federal judge in Washington state, who said that credible asylum seekers must be given a bond hearing within seven days of a request.

“They want to send a message that you will get detained,” Judy Rabinovitz, a deputy director of the Immigrants Rights’ Project at the ACLU, told the Times. “It’s really obscene. We are talking about people who are fleeing for their lives, seeking safety. And our response is just lock them up.”

The new order will almost certainly be challenged by immigrant rights groups like the ACLU in court, so it’s unknown if it will ever actually be enforced.

Barr’s attempt is in line with recent statements from the president questioning the validity of asylum seekers claims of persecution and promises to end what he calls a “catch and release” policy with migrants. At a recent rally, he called the asylum process a “big fat con job.”

“That’s what Trump’s mantra is: End catch and release,” Rabinowitz told the Times. “What does that mean? It’s human beings. We’re not talking about a game of cat and mouse.”

The current level of crossings into the U.S. by asylum seekers are at their highest in 12 years, mostly fueled by violence and poverty in Central America. This has led to cramped conditions in detention centers and extreme measures taken by Border Patrol, which would only be exacerbated by Barr’s new order.

“I will delay the effective date of this decision for 90 days so that D.H.S. may conduct the necessary operational planning for additional detention and parole decisions,” Barr wrote.

Barr’s decision will not impact families or children crossing into the country unaccompanied.

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