U.S. asylum law offers permanent protection to people fleeing severe persecution in their home countries because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Many New Mainers have received, or are currently seeking, safe haven through our asylum laws. However, over the past three years the administration has made concerted efforts to erode these protections.

On June 15, these efforts culminated in proposed new federal rules to effectively abolish asylum as we know it. If adopted, these proposed rules would apply retroactively to those with pending asylum applications, including more than 6,500 New Mainers and 866,000 people nationwide. Many New Mainers with meritorious asylum claims would be denied asylum and deported because of this after-the-fact narrowing of the asylum rules.

The asylum seekers directly affected by these rules, if adopted, include our friends, neighbors, co-workers and a significant percentage of Maine’s essential workers. Many of these New Mainers have been awaiting decisions in their asylum cases for five or more years. The personal devastation for these New Mainers and their children (many of whom are U.S. citizens and know no other country) is unfathomable. They would be wrested from their homes and adopted country because of a “bait and switch” in the law, and sent back to countries where they fear harm or even death.

In addition, the indirect impact of these rules would be a major blow for the state of Maine and all Mainers. Beyond enriching Maine’s cultural, ethnic and racial diversity, New Mainers are critical for Maine’s future. Maine has the nation’s oldest population, and each year experiences more deaths than births. Immigrants, including asylum seekers, stem the state’s population shrinkage. They are younger than the average Mainer, overwhelmingly of prime working age. Those who are not working are currently in school, being educated to be our next generation of workers, volunteers, taxpayers and policymakers. They apply the same persistence and resilience needed to flee their home countries and arrive in the U.S. to contributing greatly to Maine and the nation.

On humane, personal and economic grounds, Mainers must speak up against these proposed rules. Fortunately, there is a public comment period, although the window is very short, expiring July 15.

Concerned Mainers can help protect a fair asylum system by commenting against the proposed rules by July 15 at https://bit.ly/31yQqvg. You can find help to submit comments from the Maine Business Immigration Coalition at https://bit.ly/3g0ONuy or the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project at https://bit.ly/3dJa4aH.

Just two of the many proposed changes would, if adopted, result in the denial of the asylum applications of most New Mainers seeking asylum, even if they credibly prove that they’ve suffered past, or face future, persecution. The proposed rule instructs that asylum seekers who entered the U.S. without permission (such as those who cross the southern border, including many of the African asylum seekers who came to Maine and stayed at the Expo last summer), and those who traveled through more than one country on their way to the U.S. (even just for connecting flights), should be denied asylum in almost all cases. These changes are proposed even though Congress specifically allowed for asylum regardless of how an asylum seeker enters the country. And these changes are only two of dozens of revisions proposed in the new rule that essentially obliterate asylum protections granted by U.S. and international law.

The proposed rules, if implemented, would result in a travesty in justice. They would cause personal devastation or worse to most of Maine’s 6,500 pending asylum seekers, and negatively impact the economic stability and quality of life of all Mainers.

By law, the Trump administration must consider all public comments submitted in its final decision-making process. Numerous and robust comments are also important tools for use in the legal battles that will surely ensue, since the proposed rules violate federal and international law.

Please raise your voice by submitting a public comment against these rules by July 15.

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