Here are definitions of asylum from the dictionary:
- a place of refuge and protection giving shelter, secure from assault or trespass;
- an institution providing care and protection to needy individuals;
Legally, according the the Department of Homeland Security, asylum can be affirmative: permission to remain in the United States due to either persecution or fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group; or defensive: a defense against removal from the United States. You must be physically present in the United States to apply for asylum. One year after being granted asylum, you are eligible to apply to extend residence status by applying for a Green Card. Within the two years after being granted asylum, you may petition to bring your family to America. These have been the rules until now.
A refugee has been “forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.” More than three million refugees have built new lives in America since 1975. There have been growing concerns, some predating this administration, about whether America is doing enough to welcome refugees from conflict zones around the world.
America is swiftly moving away from whatever sense of being a place of ‘secure retreat’ we may have projected around the world at various points in our history, thanks to our current administration’s policies. Being non-white and/or non-christian in America has become a risk, for natives and immigrants alike. Individuals who look ‘foreign’ in today’s America pay a heavy burden, including the highest price of all, for the rising tide of xenophobia fomented by our current president and the members of his administration.
Young people across the globe feel the change in what America means, and what it means to be American. Families trying to make new lives in our country face the new reality. Can we possibly imagine anything other than significant and long-lasting harm for the children and families impacted by these policies?
Separation of families due to immigration enforcement actions is not new. Just over two million persons were deported from the U.S. during President George W. Bush’s terms in the White House. President Obama’s administration deported more individuals living in the U.S. illegally than any previous president, while trying to focus on people with criminal convictions. Between 2009 and 2015, approximately two and a half million persons were deported from America. By 2015, 86% of the deported persons were considered high priority border security or public safety risks. Obama also spearheaded the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program to lower the priority placed on removing people brought into the U.S. illegally as children.
What is happening now is expanded detention and increased deportations, with little concern about a hearing, regardless of criminal history, regardless of family connections, regardless of any mitigating circumstance that a more sustainable set of procedures by a more humane administration would take into account in enforcement guidelines. The administration has tried to encourage local peace officers and law enforcement to take on immigration-related responsibilities, although some of the new measures have already been halted in court.
Early on, this administration is targeting some with the least voice among us. DACA recipients are exposed. The president’s first major policy address included his idea for a new government body called ‘victims of immigration crime engagement’ (VOICE), “though he made no explanation of why the targets of crime perpetrated by immigrants should receive the support of a new federal government agency that apparently excludes the victims of crime committed by U.S. citizens.” Otherwise law-abiding asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants live in profound fear as they wonder if they can build lives here in the land of the free, after all. We must speak with them and for them, and speak together. Now.
Stay awake. Keep the faith.