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The Trump Administration Plans To Deny Work Permits To Asylum-Seekers Who Cross The Border

The proposal would deny thousands of people who cross the border each year to seek asylum in the US the right to apply to legally work.

Posted on August 20, 2019, at 7:41 p.m. ET

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Detained immigrants are loaded into a US Border Patrol van at the US–Mexico border.

The Trump administration plans to issue a new policy that would deny work permits to asylum-seekers who cross the border without authorization as well as those who are convicted of a felony, and significantly delay when those qualified to apply for a permit can do so, according to two sources close to the administration.

The proposal from US Citizenship and Immigration Services comes as acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, an immigration hardliner, pushes restrictive policies, including a recent rule allowing the government to deny permanent residency to immigrants who use or are likely to use public benefits, such as food stamps.

The new work permit policy, which has not been previously reported, is expected to be included in a forthcoming proposed regulation that would only allow those who applied for asylum at a port of entry to be eligible for a work permit. The new restrictions mark the latest move by the Trump administration to reduce the number of asylum-seekers crossing the southern border.

Proposed regulations do not take effect immediately and must still go through a process that includes public comments. A USCIS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.

In late April, President Trump signed a memo directing USCIS to provide proposals that would limit work permits for asylum-seekers who crossed the border without authorization. The proposed regulation is believed to have been pushed aggressively by White House officials.

“Let’s not forget: People seeking asylum are legal immigrants,” said Doug Rand, a former immigration official under the Obama administration. “This proposed rule sounds like another rush job calculated to scare vulnerable people in advance of inevitable lawsuits.”

Emilio Espejel / AP

Immigrants seeking to enter the US are forced to wait in Mexico near an immigration center in Matamoros, Mexico.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of individuals cross the border without authorization and apply for asylum. The proposal, if instituted, would deny these individuals the right to apply to legally work in the US, with few exceptions.

The policy will also aim to delay the time it takes for those who apply for asylum — either while already present in the US or after crossing the border and referred to immigration court — to become qualified to apply for a work permit, from 150 days to 365 days, according to sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about the proposal. Currently, those who apply for a work permit 150 days after applying for asylum are qualified to receive the work permit as early as 180 days from their asylum application — a provision that will also be eliminated.

Those who are arrested or charged with certain crimes could also be denied access to work permits, which the immigration agency has long provided to asylum-seekers as their cases run through sometimes lengthy court or administrative processes.

BuzzFeed News first reported that the administration was considering such a delay.

Under the Trump administration, USCIS has been recast as an agency that strictly enforces immigration laws. Advocates have said that the Trump administration’s changes to asylum, including restricting who qualifies for the protection, are illegal and inhumane.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.