Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump dismissed Syrian refugees fleeing horrific violence as a “Trojan horse.” As president, Trump’s administration has been treating political refugees from around the world with the same casual cruelty.
As the Daily Beast reported on Thursday, agents at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services have been working to make it as difficult as possible for people fleeing persecution to find safe harbor here.
Part of the new “extreme vetting” policies pushed by Trump includes scheduling interviews first for those who applied for asylum most recently, ensuring that they are the least prepared for their critical interview with USCIS officials. According to the site (emphasis mine):
The asylum process was never easy. But lawyers said the Trump administration appears to have made it harder than ever for people to get asylum. Most of the attorneys who spoke with The Daily Beast said they thought the changes were a move in the wrong direction, though one said he welcomes the extra scrutiny.
And it follows a change in the way the asylum process works. To get asylum in the United States, an asylum-seeker has to go through an interview process. Previously, these interviews were scheduled in the order people applied for asylum—first come, first served. But several months ago, the United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a flip: The people who applied for asylum most recently would be the first to have their interviews scheduled.
Ahead of their interviews with U.S. officials, asylum seekers gather evidence showing that, if forced to return to their home country, they would be put in real danger. Chillingly, “numerous” immigration attorneys told the Daily Beast that USCIS officials have been routinely losing this paperwork:
Jason Dzubow, an immigration attorney based in Northern Virginia who specializes in asylum cases, told The Daily Beast that the last four times he’s gone with a client for an asylum interview, the client’s documentation—which he turned in prior to the questioning—had been mysteriously lost.
“I don’t know how often it happens, but I know I’m zero for four in the last four interviews,” Dzubow said. “Not a good success rate. Whether that will affect the outcome, I don’t know.
“Maybe they’re permanently lost or they’re just temporarily lost, I don’t know,” he added. “But this is an epidemic.”
Imagine having to flee your home country, fearing for your life and the lives of your children, making a perilous journey to the United States, safeguarding evidence of your persecution to show immigration authorities, going through the process of finding an attorney, and enduring a long and grueling interview process—all for USCIS officials to “lose” that evidence.
In 1939, the MS St. Louis—a transatlantic ocean liner carrying 946 passengers, most of whom were German Jews fleeing the Third Reich—arrived at a port in Florida. Passengers sent a cable to President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge and never received a response. The St. Louis was forced to sail back to Europe, where many of the passengers were able to find refuge in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. An estimated 254 passengers were forced to return to Germany and died in the Holocaust. How will people judge the U.S. government for turning away asylum seekers 80 years from now?