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New federal rules could drive many asylum seekers into poverty

Read this news in English in the Miami Herald.

Lawyers and advocates for the undocumented are battling to get asylum seekers in South Florida to apply for work permits before new federal restrictions go into effect on August 21.

New work permit rules targeting asylum seekers will soon drive an already vulnerable population into poverty, advocates say.

The sweeping changes, which restrict and delay work permits for some asylum seekers in the United States, take effect on August 21 and 25. Experts say the new restrictions are part of the push by President Donald Trump’s administration to reduce asylum protections for a vulnerable group of people, including children and members of the LGBTQ community, who are generally survivors of domestic violence and trafficking. of people, as well as victims of violent crime, child abuse and human rights violations in their countries of origin.

With those dates less than two weeks away, advocates for the undocumented are rushing to pressure eligible asylum seekers to apply for employment authorization.

“We are doing a great deal to try to reach people,” said Randy McGrorty, Miami immigration attorney and executive director of Catholic Legal Services, a non-profit organization attached to the Archdiocese of Miami that helps undocumented immigrants apply for asylum. . “They can’t wait any longer, it’s an emergency.”

Among the biggest changes in the new rules:

Under current legislation, asylum seekers can apply for a work permit, regardless of when they submit their asylum application. However, as of August 25, anyone who files an asylum application one year after entering the country will not be able to apply for a work permit unless the government determines that it is an extraordinary case.

Any asylum seeker who has been convicted of certain crimes or is “believed” to have committed a serious non-political crime outside the United States will be denied a work permit.

Any asylum seeker will be denied a work permit if the government alleges that there are “delays caused by the seeker”, such as a request for modification or supplement to the asylum claim or if the claim is transferred to a different asylum office due to to a change in the applicant’s address.

As of August 21, the government is no longer required to process initial applications for work permits within 30 days. This does not apply to renewals. When the change takes effect, the processing of the request could take an indefinite time. Legal experts say this means that some asylum seekers may never have the opportunity to work because their application may be delayed. Also, the asylum application could be denied, rendering the migrant ineligible for the work permit.

Currently, if the government denies an asylum application, applicants can work until the work permit expires or up to 60 days after the denial. Under the new rules that go into effect on August 21, if the asylum office denies an application, the work permit automatically ends, unless the government asylum official refers the case to an immigration court.

Starting October 2, the cost of applying for a work permit will increase 34%, from $ 410 to $ 550. For the first time in US history, asylum seekers will be charged for applying for asylum: $ 50.

“This is harassment, an attack on the asylum system,” McGrorty said. “The government doesn’t want people to apply for asylum, so they are going to make it difficult. For example: in general, five months without issuing work permits has been devastating, “he added. Imagine not being able to work for half a year. The new rule more than doubled that time ”.

Jennifer Anzardo Valdez, director of the Children’s Law Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, a Florida nonprofit immigration organization representing Miami’s most vulnerable communities, is on the legal team tasked with analyzing the new immigration permit rules. job. She says that “rules have been put in place to prevent asylum seekers not only not being able to earn a living, but not being able to survive.”

“Many of these people come with nothing, sometimes they decide to leave their homes at night, and they embark on a journey that takes a long time,” Anzardo Valdez said. “By the time they get here, they are traumatized and have absolutely nothing. They depend on this work permit to eat and have a roof while they wait for the court’s decision. That’s what the work authorization is for, to give the person the opportunity to survive and recover while they wait for asylum.

Experts say there is a common misconception that asylum seekers are eligible for government assistance.

“They are not eligible,” Anzardo Valdez said. “In fact, it’s the opposite. These people pay taxes when they have a job and contribute to the economy.

According federal data of the Citizenship and Immigration Service, in fiscal year 2019 more than 1 million applications for work permits were submitted. The government does not break down the data by state or distinguish how many of those applications were submitted by asylum seekers.

Under the new rule published in the Federal Register, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged advocates’ concerns that the new rules could lead to or exacerbate problems such as homelessness, hunger, mental health issues, and lack of access to medical care, but told asylum seekers to find a homeless shelter.

“Asylum seekers who are concerned about homelessness during the time they wait for employment authorization should familiarize themselves with the resources offered by the state where they plan to reside,” says DHS in the final rule published in the Federal Register.

“That’s why I say the law has been changed in draconian ways,” said Juan Carlos Gómez, director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at Florida International University.

The new rules are implemented during a global pandemic “when people are already facing economic devastation,” Gomez said. “The government can take years and years to process asylum cases. These changes will put asylum seekers in legal limbo and leave many without options for permanent housing. “

Translation by Oscar Díaz.