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DHS Proposed Rule Limits Access to Work Authorization for Asylum-Seekers

Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a proposed rule designed to significantly limit—or ban outright—the ability of asylum-seekers to apply for work authorization in the United States. This is a blatant violation of refugee rights and a clear effort to deter people from seeking protection.

Under the proposed rule, applicants for asylum who did not enter through an official port of entry as well as asylum-seekers who are not currently in the United States—namely, individuals and families forced to remain in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols—would be ineligible for work authorization during the pendency of their applications. Individuals who are still eligible under the proposed rule would be forced to wait a full calendar year—more than double the current 180-day requirement—in order to apply for authorization. The rule is clearly structured so that asylum-seekers are more likely to abandon their claims in the face of increased hardship or, as immigration historian Yael Schacher explains, “be forced into the underground economy, where exploitation is rife and whose existence undermines the ability of all workers to secure fair pay and decent working conditions.”

The right to work is a vital component of humanitarian protections and international refugee law. For people waiting for months in the United States for a determination on their request for asylum, the reality of the need to work is no less significant. The proposed rule is another attempt by the Trump administration to gut the asylum system and impose rules that poorly align with reality and take the United States further away from a fair, humane, and workable immigration system that upholds the rule of law.

For more on how to reframe the immigration debate, see CAP’s report: “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”