Mon 1/13: DEADLINE TONIGHT! Comment by 11:59 pm EST on ANOTHER proposal to hurt asylum seekers.

Today in MORE terrible things to do to immigrants.

Our little band of white supremacists led by Stephen Miller, and ably seconded by acting USCIS director Ken Cuccinelli, would like to have your opinion on how they can make people who seek asylum here more miserable. We’ve already submitted comments on why its barbaric for the U.S. to charge entry fees to asylum seekers. Now we are asked to comment on new ways to disqualify and economically cripple asylum seekers. This  horrific process is described by immigration expert Marshall Fitz as the Trump administration’s “relentless cruelty” toward our country’s immigrant population.

Here are some of the administration’s main points.

  1. From the same thought pattern that separated kids from their parents to “discourage” families from crossing the border, this proposal wants to discourage “frivolous” asylum applications by doubling the time asylum seekers must wait to a year before they can apply for and EAD (Employment Authorization Document), despite their willingness to work immediately to pay their own way and that asylees aren’t eligible for state or federal benefits.
  2.  Eliminates the issuance of recommended approvals from asylum officers. “The “recommended approvals” for affirmative asylum — protection sought from asylum-seekers away from the border and within a year of entry to the US — have been issued in the past to those whose cases are deemed worthy of an asylum grant but whose background investigations or other matters have not been fully approved. The recommended approval allows the asylum-seeker a chance to apply for a work permit before the 150-day wait period. The proposal would cut the approval and force asylum-seekers to wait for their clearance or other matters to be completed.”
  3. Removes from eligibility those who’ve filed late more than a year from entering and those who entered outside a port of entry. According to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (to which the U.S. is a signatory), refugees have a legal right to seek asylum protection and cannot be punished for doing so, no matter their mode of entry. The Trump Administration replaced that with his “zero tolerance” policy, a policy that is in conflict with U.S. international obligations and U.S. policy.
  • Comment here.
  • Proposed rule here
  • Other people’s comments here for INSPIRATION ONLY! No copying please. They cull identical comments.
  • Definition of asylum here.

Deeper Dive

Ken Cuccinelli, acting USCIS director, and free-form reinterpreter of the poem below the Statue of Liberty, stated:”Aliens seeking economic opportunity continue to exploit our asylum process, which undermines the integrity of our immigration system and delays relief for legitimate asylum seekers who need humanitarian protection.

His own people have pushed back. “The rule would punish all asylum seekers, not just the ones who may not have meritorious claims, which can only be determined after their asylum applications are adjudicated.”  a USCIS official said.

Employment authorization allows asylum-seekers to support themselves while the government processes their claims. It often means access to a temporary driver’s license which has a huge liberating impact in a ton of car-centric places,” said Andrew Free, an immigration attorney based in Tennessee. “These changes would leave more asylum-seekers dependent, vulnerable to exploitation, and in the shadows, which is exactly where the regime wants them.” This proposed rule change would cause the exact opposite of what Cuccinelli claims he wants…” “Give me your tired, and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.” 

We are publishing the great comment below, submitted from Upwardly Global because it shows the positive role asylum-seekers play in our community. In agreement – Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who, in a tweet, condemned the proposed policy as not only morally wrong but economically shortsighted. “Communities that take in refugees see their economies grow,” said Chu. “That’s a fact. So there is no benefit to this policy.” “Prohibiting refugees from working is damning them to poverty,” Chu added. “Trump is willing to hurt our economy just so that he can hurt immigrants first.”

Re: DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0011 – Public Comment Filed Opposing Proposed Rule, “Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants,” filed on 11/14/2019; Doc. Citation 84 FR 62374, Pages 62374-62424.

Dear Desk Officer:

Upwardly Global is a national nonprofit organization committed to building an inclusive, future-ready workforce that embraces the skills of work-authorized immigrants, including refugees, asylum seekers and asylee professionals. Since our founding in 2000, we have supported more than 14,000 work-authorized, college-educated newcomers–including asylum seekers–with job coaching, networking and skill-building programs, ensuring that they can fully contribute their education, skills and experience to the U.S. workforce.

We respectfully express opposition to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) proposed rule, “Asylum Application, Interview, and Employment Authorization for Applicants,” (“NPRM”), which would make significant changes to the process by which asylum seekers can apply for employment authorization, including a proposal to double the amount of time that asylum seekers must wait to apply for work permits. Upwardly Global is concerned that proposed change will both delay and hinder asylum seekers’ ability to support themselves economically, stymying both their immediate ability to achieve self-sufficiency as their cases are pending and also their long-term potential for professional success and economic contributions in this country.

The NPRM states that “DHS recognizes that a number of aliens who are legitimate asylum seekers may experience potential economic hardship because of the extended waiting period” for filing the employment authorization document (“EAD”) application. Upwardly Global’s data and experience demonstrates that DHS may underestimate the significant economic impact to the local economy as well as to the asylum seekers. The proposed rule will also unnecessarily harm the emotional and physical well being of vulnerable asylum seekers and their families who seek refuge from persecution.

Since 2017, Upwardly Global has supported more than 300 asylum seekers in rebuilding professional careers in the United States, in high-demand industries including IT, engineering, health care and finance. Our work uniquely positions us to understand how timely access to work authorization is critical in allowing asylum seekers to achieve self-sufficiency in the United States, while also benefiting local employers and economies by allowing asylum seekers to contribute tax revenues, fill skills gaps, and build vibrant workforces. Upwardly Global’s cohort of 309 asylum seekers alone earns $18.2 million annually—an average salary of more than $59,000 each—contributing an estimated $2.1 million in federal taxes each year. Recent examples of asylum seekers served by our program include:

● A physician from Nigeria with a background in HIV prevention who is now working for a major Chicago-area lab as a Clinical Research Associate.

● A data scientist from Turkey with a background in IT who is now an analyst with a national payroll company in New York.

● A finance professional from El Salvador who now works as a staff accountant at a Bay-Area nonprofit organization.

Upwardly Global program participants report struggling to make ends meet under the current “180-day Asylum EAD Clock.” Many have spent significant shares of their personal savings to escape persecution and arrive in the United States, and struggle to afford basic food and shelter with what remains. Often, asylum seekers must stretch savings to support more than just themselves; the 309 asylum seekers in Upwardly Global’s program have 169 dependent children.

Human Rights First documents how many asylum seekers experience homelessness, hunger, and limited access to healthcare during the current 180-day waiting period. And to add to the lengthy time frame asylum seekers face in securing work authorization, processing times of EAD applications across the country, once filed, are currently projected by USCIS to take as long as seven months.

Upwardly Global is concerned that doubling the waiting time for employment authorization will pose significant, even life-threatening, burdens for people who otherwise have no means to work, provide for their families, access healthcare, or achieve self-sufficiency. We also share additional, specific concerns about the economic impact of the NPRM, including:

1. DHS underestimates asylum seekers’ economic contributions in estimating the NPRM’s economic effects on wages and taxes. By DHS’s own data estimates, delaying asylum seekers’ ability to access employment authorization could result in $542.7 million in lost compensation, along with an $84.2 million reduction in employment tax transfers. These estimates are based on a prevailing minimum wage of $8.25 on the lower bound and a national average wage of of $24.98 as upper bound. However, Upwardly Global data suggest that these estimates are likely low. The asylum seekers in our program earn an average of $59,043 annually– about $28.38 an hour– significantly higher than the national annual mean wage of $51,960. Several program participants earn six-figure salaries. All of our program participants arrive in the U.S. with college degrees or technical certification from their home countries; nearly 65 percent of the 309 asylum seekers in our program came with experience in STEM and healthcare fields, industries with well-documented worker shortages. The above-average salaries they command after securing the EAD illustrate the premium that U.S employers place on their skills and experience, and strongly suggest that delaying their entry to the workforce would have a significant negative impact.

2. The burden on U.S. employers will be more significant than described in the NPRM. The NPRM acknowledges that employers may face difficulties in finding reasonable labor substitutes if asylum seekers are kept out of the workforce, especially given the current low levels of unemployment in the U.S. The NPRM concedes that “USCIS does not know what [the] next best alternative may be for those companies.” Again, Upwardly Global data and experience suggest that the NPRM may underestimate the degree to which asylum seekers occupy niche or hard-to-fill positions in the U.S. workforce. Nearly 65 percent of the asylum seekers in our program came to the U.S. with backgrounds in the STEM and healthcare fields, industries with well-documented worker shortages in the U.S.

3. Adding biometrics requirements to work authorization applications increases costs and burden on applicants. DHS proposed to incorporate biometrics collection into the employment authorization process for asylum seekers. As asylum seekers will have already submitted biometrics as part of their initial asylum applications, at a cost of $85, requiring additional collection is redundant and poses unnecessary financial burden on applicants. The NPRM calculates total costs for EAD-related biometrics collection to be $37,769,580, to be shouldered by asylum seekers who, by definition, will not be authorized to work before the application period. The $85 biometrics fee would be collected in addition to a proposed $490 fee to file for work authorization (Form I-765) being proposed in a separate NPRM (DHS Docket No.USCIS-2019-0010, “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements”), putting the total cost of applying for a work permit at $575, out of reach for people who are relying on limited savings to survive. Finally, biometrics collection will require applicants to appear in person at an Application Support Center, which requires coordination of transportation and lodging, at additional cost to the applicant.

4. The cumulative effects of recent NPRMs essentially puts work authorization out of reach for asylum seekers. The changes outlined in this NPRM, if implemented in tandem with the plans outlined in other recent NPRMs, including DHS Docket No. USCIS-2018-0001 (“Removal of 30-Day Processing Provision for Asylum DHS Docket No.USCIS-2019-0010 (“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Fee Schedule and Changes to Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements”) will have the cumulative result of effectively putting work authorization out of reach for asylum seekers. We are concerned that the combined effects of these NPRMs–levying and raising fees for I-765 applications while also doubling the amount of time asylum seekers must wait to apply and removing established guidelines for processing the form–will essentially make work authorization unattainable for asylum seekers who otherwise have no means to access work, income, or self-sufficiency in this country. U.S. employers and local economies will bear the brunt of this lost opportunity to embrace the talents of these workers with in-demand skill sets and experience.

Upwardly Global data suggests that the economic and humanitarian consequences of delayed work authorization for asylum seekers may be more significant than DHS estimates in the NPRM. As such, we urge DHS to withdraw this proposed rule and work to streamline both the processing of asylum petitions and employment authorization applications for asylum seekers. Upwardly Global calls for the government to build policies that equip asylum seekers with the ability to support themselves while their cases are pending, and recognizes their potential for significant contributions to our nation’s workforce and economy.

Sincerely,

Jina Krause-Vilmar
President & CEO
Upwardly Global

We are reprinting this great set of arguments and talking points below from Indivisible SF. (Reminder Do not copy!-Rephrase anything that you like.)

Suggested Arguments/Talking Points:

If you or your organization works directly with asylum seekers, it would be particularly helpful to:

  1. describe (anonymized) real examples and stories of clients that illustrate the potential impact of the proposed regulation (e.g., “Client Jane Doe, an asylum seeker who fled persecution in her home country of Guatemala, has two minor children and an elderly parent to support, but her family is now struggling because she is unable to obtain legal employment. If she had to wait a year before being able to apply for an EAD, she would not be able to provide sufficient food and clothing for her children”; “Client X is an asylum seeker living with [a chronic disease or a disability] and without an EAD, he has been unable to obtain the employment he needs to access healthcare and his condition has worsened significantly”).  The more detail you can provide the better; and/or

  2. Describe, quantitatively if possible, the impact the Rule could have on your organization’s work (e.g., “if every asylum seeker taking a plea deal is likely to be categorically excluded from work authorization, my public defender organization will need to spend substantially more time with our asylum seeker clients to discuss collateral consequences of even non-criminal convictions, and our asylum seekers will be more likely to reject plea deals and take cases to trial, causing an increase in our caseloads and we may need to hire immigration attorneys.”).

The above are just examples – if there are other specific negative impacts you anticipate, please describe those too!

If you or your business employs asylum seekers, it would particularly helpful to discuss the following points: 

  • My organization employs asylum seekers, and it would be difficult and costly to find replacement labor for their positions in light of their specialized skills, experience, etc.

  • If my organization were unable to employ asylum seekers, we would lose [estimated amount of money, or “a significant amount”] in profits and other costs.

  • Our asylum-seeking employees are an important part of the workplace culture and the community that enable my organization to thrive. Losing them as part of our workforce will impact company morale and the overall well-being of the business.

Impact on Asylum Seekers

  • The proposed categorical bars to eligibility for employment authorization include minor offenses that are not crimes under state law.  Some asylum seekers who will ultimately be granted asylum will be unable to receive employment authorization for the pendency of their asylum cases, which could take many years.  Some asylum seekers who are currently working will be unable to renew their employment authorization and will likely lose their jobs and forcing them into the shadow economy to financially support themselves and their families.

  • Asylum seekers may be faced with an untenable choice: take a plea deal to ensure they remain asylum-eligible but that renders them ineligible for employment authorization or go to trial to try to preserve their employment eligibility but become ineligible for asylum (and work authorization) if they lose.

Impact on Public Defender Organizations and Criminal Defense Attorneys

  • Criminal attorneys advising asylum seekers about the collateral consequences of criminal convictions (and open criminal cases more generally) will need to advise their clients about the consequences of accepting plea deals in their criminal cases on their ability to receive work authorization.  This will require them not only to be familiar with any changed regulations but also to stay abreast of case-by-case USCIS adjudications, given that part of the final rule proposes increasing the exercise of discretion with respect to pending and unresolved criminal cases.

Impact on Federal, State, and Local Criminal Courts

  • Asylum seekers are more likely to reject plea deals because nearly any conviction will render them ineligible to work, increasing the burden on the criminal justice system by increasing the number of pending criminal cases and the number of cases that go to trial.

Impact on Businesses

  • Companies that currently hire asylum seekers may lose their employees who are unable to renew their existing work authorization, with the attendant loss of skills, knowledge, and experience. Such employers and other companies that would otherwise hire asylum seekers will be unable to rely on asylum seekers to fill their employment needs. The net result will likely be substantial lost profits and productivity.

 

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