Everything you Need to Know About Seeking Asylum in the United States

Emily Portalatin Munoz

This country was built by immigrants (over the graves of the indigenous but that’s a topic for another day). We go into a little bit of history in my post The Process of seeking Asylum in the U.S but let us review anyway. 

       There were no laws restricting immigration until the late 1800s with the passing of the Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion act of 1882 (The Week, 2019). In 1920 legislature passed a strict quota. The strict quotas left 300,000 people on a waiting list to get to the United States (The Week, 2019). The laws later changed after world war two when many people were displaced. This led to the first U.S. legislation that recognized asylum seekers. This legislation was the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This act was signed into law by President Harry Truman and this law gave certain European refugees permanent residence. But this law had a limited time frame from 1948 and ended in 1952.

In 1951 the UN defined a refugee as someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

After 1975 there was a huge overhaul of Cuban immigrants to the United States. Specifically, in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift around 125000 Cuban refugees risked their lives trying to cross the ocean. 

The next major immigration law was during the Regan administration. Ronald Regan passed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act into law in 1986. This gave amnesty to around 3 million immigrants living illegally in the United States. 

In 2001 Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch proposed a bill called Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors Act. This bill would have provided a pathway to legal status for Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents as children. But this bill did not pass. 

In 2012 President Barack Obama signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which temporarily shields some Dreamers from deportation but doesn’t provide a path to citizenship. This executive order partly accomplished part of what the senators tried to accomplish with the dream act. 

And in most recent times President Donald Trump signed two executive orders dealing with immigration titled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. These executive orders were quickly referred to as a Muslim ban as they banned travel from six majority Muslim countries. In the second order, they added North Korea and Venezuela. 

Now that we have caught up to date on the history of the immigration places of the United States we need to continue. The legislative history is very important to this country’s history because this is a country founded on immigrating to find a better life. For a country based on the American dream it only makes sense that people in here most dark times come to America to seek the very American dream everyone talks about. 

Asylum is a complex issue that deals with the lives of people in their most dire time of need. There are people who are so desperate they risk their lives trying to reach the border to America. There are those who try and go through the months of paperwork beforehand. But at the end of the day what are our policy makers doing about this problem. What are some examples of legislation put out to try and help improve the situation that is happening at our borders? In this post, we will discuss the different options we have that can be put in practice via policymaking. 

The first legislation is the Secure and Protect Act of 2019. This legislation is taking a different epoch to the immigration system. Sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham this bill’s goal is to strengthen border security. He states that “Word is out on the streets in Central America that if you bring a child with you – regardless of whether or not it is actually your child – America’s laws can be manipulated to allow you to stay in the United States.” According to senate.gov, this bill would have asylum applications processed in refugee processing centers. These processing centers would not be in the United States but instead in the northern triangle and Mexico. This legislation would also keep families together for 100 days instead of the twenty now and introduce 500 more immigration judges to reduce the backlog of cases. This legislation is aimed more at the securitization of the border. Lastly, the senator says this regarding the bill “ It should go without saying but travel from Central America to the United States is a dangerous and treacherous journey, particularly for children…This legislation will help protect children by ensuring asylum claims are filed from their home area, not after a thousand-mile journey.”

Secondly, I will go into more depth about we refugee protection act of 2019. I have gone into some depth when talking about the refugee Protection act of 2019. I have written a blog with quick facts and mentioned in my Asylum: What are our options? post. This bill was made in response to the Trump administration’s approach to the immigration system. It is not surprising that the Trump administration is very fond of the idea of just closing the border off completely. This bill was meant to combat the administration’s agenda by passing actual law and legislation (something the president cannot and should not do). As the sponsor of the bill Senator Patrick Leahy states “As the world faces the worst refugee crisis in recorded history, the United States should be embracing our role as the humanitarian leader of the world – not retreating from it, as the Trump administration has shamefully done.” So let us get into the merits of this bill and talk about why we should implement it into legislation. 

The legislation is broken down into four titles. The four titles are titled as follows: admissions and protection of refugees; asylum seeker and other vulnerable individuals; refugee and asylum seeker processing in the western hemisphere; special immigrant visa programs and general provisions. 

Title one has six subsections. The first subsection is about defining refugees, eliminating time limits on asylum claims, and requiring transparency in refugee determinations. This is the very foundation of the bill and takes on the bigger problems that are being caused by the current immigration system. This section is eliminating a lot of the “fine print” associated with trying to seek asylum through the court system. It will also allow the system to be more transparent.

Title two focuses on expanding refugee and asylum seeker processing, increasing regional humanitarian responses, and has means of identification, screening, and processing of refugees. This section does this by implementing structures for various programs. Such as the Central American refugee program and the Central American minors’ program. This provides specific instruction to immigration officials. This section can easily be turned in the new policy with immigration officials with the support of the new programs instigated.

Title three This section is about special immigrant visa programs. These programs include a direct access program for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. Another element is requiring a reporting system when it comes to these special visas. This title also requires improvements made on the application process for Afghan special immigrant visas. These are just a few examples of the inclusion of the bill, including access to visas that have worked hard for such examples. People that have worked for or have helped the United States in dangerous situations it only seems fair that they are granted visas to flee any danger they put themselves into for the sake of this country. 

Title four is just the general provisions as on most bills. It also mentions the budgetary effects but nothing that speaks to merits as it is short and sweet. If you want to read the bill in its entirety you can here

Now that we have researched the merits and benefits of the Act how do we pass it in legislation? The bill in question that would directly help many asylum seekers that come to the United States is the Refugee Protection Act of 2019. There are multiple things that need to happen in order for a bill of this standing to get passed in a Republican majority. This bill is seen as a very controversial one by the republican side. The general view of republicans on immigration was not to fix am immigration system but instead securitize the border. The republican view is focused on crime crossing the border more than to make the system easier on those seeking asylum. An example of a republican can be explored in my Asylum: what are our options? Post this legislation is called the Secure and Protect Act of 2019. So let us take that legislation for example and see what is proposed. In this legislation, they propose asylum centers in the northern triangle and Mexico as well as adding more judges to the immigration sector. Some differing points are making it so unaccompanied minors can be sent back to their country and still separating families but instead of 20 days, it will be 100 days. This leaves us the question of where are we willing to compromise and how do we get the votes?

       I propose we add an amendment that adds the 500 judges from the republican bill as well as setting us asylum centers as a supplementary instead of those centers handling all asylum duties. This would help to get moderate votes this would allow the bill to be passed as the majority in the senate is only the majority by five seats. Adding these amendments would also have some cooperation across the aisle. This would be huge as it is melding two immigration bills one from each side of the party to better the chances of it passing. It can show that even under the Trump administration there can still be bipartisan cooperation. 

       The bill is still in its first stages; it was introduced to the subcommittee on immigration and citizenship. If the committee passes it to the house of representatives will vote on it. Because the house is majority controlled by the democrats I see little resistance for it to be able to pass and be moved to the senate to be voted on. For it to be passed by the senate we would need to make the appropriate changes to cooperate with the republican as stated above.

       With this plan in action, we have a real shot to pass this bill and make it law. This would not only make people seeing asylum in the United States have an easier time but it would finally make much-needed changes to a system that really needs it.

At the end of the day we have gone through the complexities of the immigration system as it relates to asylum seekers and we have both pointed out the flaws and have provided comprehensive solutions to fix them. Legislation is on our side (ironic i know). There is legislation going through right now that can make a real difference. If you take anything from my blog posts it should be the passion and clear understanding of the Refugee Protection Act of 2019. We live in a world that is going through one of the worst pandemics in recent history and we do not know how that will affect the future of immigration to the United States. But we can be prepared. We have the framework to make this a country that once again prides itself on the American dream by making immigration easier for those who are desperate for a chance at a new life. The very principle that this country was founded on can once again become a reality if we push out legislators to vote! The 2020 election has been a testament to the power of the people with a record turnout in the polls. Let us use this momentum to push the people who represent us for more legislation that works for what we believe in and what is objectively right.


Thank you for reading my posts and joining me on this journey of research in policy.

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