The Trump administration fired another shot in its war on legal immigration last week, with proposed rules designed to make life harder for people seeking asylum in the United States.

The rules would for the first time impose a fee on people who want to apply for asylum and would prohibit them from working for a full year after filing an application, more than doubling the current 150-day mandatory waiting period.

According to the acting director of homeland security, the rules are needed to discourage economic migrants from “gaming the system” by filing false asylum claims so they can get work authorization. But the effects would be felt by people who are escaping persecution, as well as local governments and aid agencies that are offering support for these families during the time that they are prevented from working.

The proposed rules are subject to one month of public comment. Everyone should take this opportunity to stand up against these mean-spirited policies, which, like child separation and overcrowded detention facilities, are designed to discourage immigrants from legally entering the country.

Although the president and his supporters often say they are opposed only to illegal immigration, the record of the Trump administration shows otherwise. The president has expressed a desire to reduce the number of refugees accepted to zero, and his administration has promulgated rules designed to put financial pressure on people who immigrate for economic reasons, denying poor immigrants the right to stay if they are deemed to need public assistance. The president blew up a bipartisan immigration deal last year because it would permit immigration from what he called “shithole countries.”

Attitudes like this were common in the early part of the 20th century, when restrictive immigration quotas denied visas to 300,000 Jews fleeing Adolf Hitler’s Germany in the years preceding the Holocaust. After World War II, the newly created United Nations defined a refugee as anyone who cannot return to his home country “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” and the United States signed on.

The Trump administration is trying to get the word out that America, once a beacon of freedom for the oppressed, will make your life miserable if you come here trying to escape persecution. The proposed rules are a backdoor attempt to reverse 75 years of policy toward asylum seekers.

Extending the period in which asylum seekers cannot work is an attack on the most vulnerable. Many of the asylum seekers who have come to Maine have college degrees and professional experience. They would not have left their home countries if it weren’t necessary. Denying them the right to earn a living – especially in a country that places such a high value on work and self-reliance – is humiliating and cruel.

Rather than extend the period that asylum seekers have to wait to enter the workforce, we support Rep. Chellie Pingree’s bill, which would cut the wait to 30 days. Aside from being the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective, it is also right economically. Maine is experiencing historically low unemployment, and desperately needs qualified people who want to work. It makes no sense to force them to sit on the sidelines for a year.

People who want to contribute to our society shouldn’t be treated like criminals. This rule should not be allowed to go into effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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