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Houston Lawyers React To Trump’s New Limits On Asylum-Seekers

The Trump administration’s new rule makes anyone who enters the country without authorization ineligible to seek asylum.

Lawyers at the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative advocate for legal representation for Houston’s immigrant communities.

Houston-area immigration lawyers are reacting to the newest move by the Trump administration to make it harder for migrants to seek asylum.

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The Trump administration's new rule makes anyone who enters the country without authorization (bypassing ports of entry) ineligible to seek asylum.

Andrea Guttin, Legal Director of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), said the move is the climax to a year of attacks on the asylum system.

"The caravan is really just a scare tactic to be able to implement the things that this administration has been trying to implement since it came into power,” said Guttin. “It has been systematically undoing asylum law."

In a written statement, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) said: "Not everyone is eligible for asylum, but everyone deserves to have their claim heard. The administration's attempt to do an end run around that fundamental American value of due process is reprehensible. Forcing asylum seekers to apply at ports of entry means even more people will be turned away, something the administration is already doing."

The ACLU and other civil rights group are challenging the new rule in federal court in San Francisco.

According to Guttin, limiting legal pathways to asylum leads to the increased detention of migrants.

The Houston area is home to four ICE detention facilities with a capacity to hold some 4,000 people, and Texas leads the country in immigration detention.

Seeking Asylum In Texas: Legal Representation Matters

One of the Trump administration’s arguments for the law limiting asylum seekers is the low number of people who are granted asylum.

In a written statement, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said: “The vast majority of asylum applications are not meritorious. In FY 2018, a total of about 6,000 aliens who passed through credible-fear screening (17 percent of all completed cases, 27 percent of all completed cases in which an asylum application was filed, and about 36 percent of cases where the asylum claim was adjudicated on the merits) established that they should be granted asylum.”

Guttin said the administration is leaving out key details, including the fact that just because asylum applications are denied, doesn’t mean the application wasn’t of merit.

“The President has shown numbers that show that a large number of asylum-seekers don’t win their claims and those statistics are true but the reasons aren’t because people don’t have legitimate claims, but because they don’t have attorneys to represent them, perhaps they don’t speak the language, and they definitely don’t possess the legal skills to make the complex arguments that you need to make in order to win an asylum claim,” said Guttin.

The average asylum denial rate in Houston between 2012 and 2017 was 87 percent, according to data from Syracuse University, though many more asylum cases are granted in New York City.

One reason for variance in denial rates has to do with legal representation: more immigrants in New York City lawyer up.

In Houston, having a lawyer can have a major impact on someone's chance of getting asylum.

"The single most important factor in removal proceedings is having an attorney," said Guttin.

In Texas, less than 30 percent of detained immigrants had legal representation from October 2000 to February 2018, according to TRAC data.

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