New Asylum Rule Change Continues Trump’s Exploitation of COVID-19 Pandemic to Push Anti-Immigrant Agenda

Washington, DC-Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a new asylum rule barring applicants from countries with a disease outbreak, deeming those asylum seekers a danger to public safety. The proposed rule change allows DHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to expand the definition of safety threats to “consider public health concerns based on disease when making a determination as to whether there are reasonable grounds to believe an alien is a danger to the security of the United States.” The U.S. has far more coronavirus deaths and confirmed infections than any other nation in the world, with public health officials warning the country is on pace to reach 100,000 new cases per day.

The announcement comes after a series of immigration bans and administrative rule changes in June, including a shift in work authorization rules for asylum seekers, requiring them to wait a year to receive permission to have a job. A 30-day public comment period on the proposed rule change begins today.

After the publication of the proposed rule change to the Federal Register, Anu Joshi, Vice President of Policy for the New York Immigration Coalition, issued the following statement.

“This latest in a long line of administration attacks on legal immigration proves once more that the Trump administration has no problem exploiting the pandemic to dismantle our asylum system. From the beginning, this White House downplayed the seriousness of the conditions—like state supported violence and climate change—that those seeking refuge in our country faced in their home countries. This proposed rule change is merely the latest attempt to cement his xenophobic legacy and play to his base, as he seeks re-election. Trump has issued immigration bans and administrative rule changes, with no Congressional oversight, and with uncharacteristic efficiency—an efficiency that has, unfortunately, not been applied to his handling of the pandemic. Just when every American needs leadership from their President to root out this deadly virus, he is nowhere to be found. We encourage everyone to submit a public comment, and we urge our elected leaders not to let this egregious assault on American values go unanswered.”


In the fall of 2017, President Trump terminated the DACA program, multiple federal courts then ruled the administration must continue to accept renewal applications. Over fifty percent of DACA recipients under the age of 25 are on track to receive a bachelor’s degree, and in total, over ninety percent of DACA recipients are employed. In the next 10 years, the country stands to lose $460.3 billion in GDP if DACA is ended without a legislative solution. In New York alone, Dream Act-eligible individuals in the workforce would add a projected $1.75 billion to the state GDP annually over ten years.

Over the past few months, the White House implemented more than a dozen changes to the immigration system as a result of the coronavirus pandemic: immigration hearings have been postponed, refugee admissions put on pause and migrants, including children, have largely been barred from entering the United States. On June 15, a 30-day public comment period began regarding the Trump administration’s 161-page draft regulation that raises the standard of proof for migrants hoping to obtain asylum and allows immigration judges to deny applications for protection without giving migrants an opportunity to present their case in court. In late June, President Trump issued an executive order temporarily preventing foreign nationals from entering the U.S. with H1B, L-1, H2B, or J-1 status. The proclamation impacts foreign nationals who are not currently in the U.S., and some categories of foreign nationals (e.g., healthcare workers) would be exempt from the executive order.

The last few weeks also saw two critical court victories for the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. The D.C. Circuit Court allowed the administration’s expansion of expedited removal to move forward. Broadly, the new rules permit immigration agents to quickly deport people encountered anywhere in the country who cannot immediately prove that they are either present legally or have been in the United States for at least two years, with no right to be seen by an immigration judge or have any further due process. Additionally, the Supreme Court struck down one of the only ways in which an asylum denial in the immigration court system could be challenged in a federal court setting by ruling that petitioners could not use a habeas claim to have the denial reviewed.

In early July, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that international students pursuing degrees in the U.S. will have to leave the country under the threat of deportation if their university switches to online-only classes. According to the announcement, the State Department will not issue visas to any student taking a fully online course load, and if in-person classes are not an option at a certain university, it recommends that students who wish to remain in the country transfer to a school that offers them. Even though online-only course loads have always been prohibited for international students coming to the U.S., ICE’s move to ignore the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic still caught many education officials by surprise. Shortly after ICE’s announcement, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology filed a lawsuit seeking to block the move.