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Refugees NW pushes back against Trump policy for asylum seekers

After crossing the international border between the United States and Mexico, and surrendering to a border patrol agent, migrants are brought to a processing center where they receive food and water as well as medical attention if needed, on March 22, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Mani Albrecht/U.S. Customs and Border Protection via Getty Images)

President Trump’s administration is attempting to change the rules governing asylum seekers, but it won’t come without a fight. Among those pushing back is Refugees Northwest.

For example, the administration wants to charge people money to file for asylum. It’s a policy change that Beth Farmer finds “egregious.”

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“Historically that has never, ever been done – charging a fee,” she said. “To say that we are going to charge you money to save you from persecution or grave harm runs counter to every American value.”

Farmer is with Refugees Northwest, which operates under Lutheran Community Services. They serve about 1,200 asylum seekers annually. The people they serve are both in the community and are detained in facilities such as Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. Farmer notes that asylum policies affect people living and working in Western Washington.

Farmer explains that the average asylum seeker waits more than 1,000 days to get a hearing. With the last government shutdown, some people have been waiting more than three years, and are scheduled out to 2022 and 2023.

“Despite the rhetoric out there, people don’t come into the country and just say ‘Hey, I want asylum’ and people say ‘Oh, OK,’” Farmer said. “There’s a credible fear interview that happens very quickly at the border. That’s done by a US CIS officer. It’s done in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, where not only do they look at if there is significant evidence that you meet the humanitarian criteria of a refugee, in other words you fled your country, you cannot return home for grave fear of harm and persecution; and is there any evidence that you are a risk to this country. If you are (a risk), they will send you home in expedited removal.”

If a person passes that first evaluation, then they can move on to the hearing process. The people waiting in limbo for their hearing have passed that first assessment.

It is difficult for anyone to deny that there is a crisis at the United States’ southern border but how to address it is still up for debated. What is certain is that there are plenty of people fleeing to America, looking to escape harm.

“I think that something being a crisis doesn’t mean that the response is to shut off people’s access,” Farmer argued. “People fleeing from Nazi Germany was a crisis, but that doesn’t mean the correct response was to shut off access. Any time when we turned our back on people who have been persecuted and sent them back to harm is a period in history that we’ve looked back on with great shame.”

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