The Biden administration has rescinded Trump-era policies that made it difficult for asylum seekers fleeing domestic or gang violence to get protection in the United States, a move that was welcomed by migration advocates as an important step forward.
In a three-page legal opinion, US Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday said broad language in the decisions put in place during former President Donald Trump’s administration “threatens to create confusion and discourage careful case-by-case adjudication of asylum claims”.
Garland issued a new policy that could make it easier for asylum seekers fleeing domestic and gang violence to win their cases for humanitarian protection.
“The significance of this cannot be overstated,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council. “This was one of the worst anti-asylum decisions under the Trump era, and this is a really important first step in undoing that.”
President Joe Biden has promised to pursue a more “humane” immigration system than his predecessor, who enacted a slew of anti-immigration policies including an entry ban on citizens of several Muslim-majority countries and harsh restrictions at the southern border with Mexico.
The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS) at UC Hastings College of the Law explained in a statement on Wednesday that the US Justice Department under Trump had issued precedent-setting decisions that effectively “stacked the deck against people seeking asylum”.
The curbs disproportionately harmed women, children and LGBTQ+ people, while also leading to people being deported to the same countries they had fled, the centre said.
“These decisions were legally flawed and injected unnecessary confusion into the decision-making process, leading judges to wrongly deny protection by prejudging cases, rather than providing each case fair consideration on its own facts,” its statement said.
The CGRS welcomed Garland’s announcement, saying it “marks enormous progress in the Biden administration’s efforts to rebuild our asylum system”.
Garland also on Wednesday separately rescinded a decision that had limited asylum claims based on persecution due to familial relationships.
“Today’s announcement will help undo some of the damage caused by the Trump administration’s attacks on asylum, and we join with our colleagues in calling on the Biden administration to accelerate and deepen their efforts in this regard,” Cody Wofsy, staff lawyer with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, also said in the CGRS statement.
Migration advocates have pushed Biden to do more to meet his pledge to rebuild asylum in the US, including ending the use of a Trump-era public health directive – invoked during the COVID-19 pandemic – that allows most asylum seekers to be turned away without having their claims heard.
But the US president has faced increased political pressure from Republicans and other critics as record numbers of asylum seekers arrive at the country’s border with Mexico in search of protection.
Biden, who has promised to tackle the “root causes” of migration, tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with curbing arrivals. She visited Guatemala and Mexico this month and told would-be asylum seekers: “Do not come.”
Those comments drew widespread criticism from migration advocates, who said that asylum is a right guaranteed under international law and urged the Biden administration to make good on its promise to break from Trump’s policies.
Most asylum seekers arriving at the US border in recent months come from southern Mexico and the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which are reeling from widespread violence, socioeconomic crises, and the devastating effects of recent storms.