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How Proposed Asylum Rule Changes Would Affect Asylum-Seekers


President Trump wants to make it harder to claim asylum in the United States. In recent months, U.S. border authorities have been overwhelmed by the number of migrants entering the U.S. Many claim asylum, describing gang violence or poverty - extreme conditions they escaped in Central America.

The president is ordering new restrictions, including fees - essentially making people pay to apply for asylum - also restrictions on work permits. He's given administration officials 90 days to draw up specific plans. Michelle Brane is senior director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women's Refugee Commission and joins us this morning.

Thanks for being here.

MICHELLE BRANE: Thank you. Good morning.

GREENE: Well, so what kinds of impacts would these changes have on asylum-seekers?

BRANE: Well, you know, the main issue here is that these provisions would do absolutely nothing to solve the situation that we have at the border right now, which is that they have not put - we, as a country, have not put enough resources into the processing of people who are fleeing for their lives. So, you know, people are going to jump out of a burning house, run out of a burning house, even if you board up the windows, lock the doors and charge them a fee to get out. They're still going to find a way to get out. It's not going to solve any problem. And if anything, it's going to exacerbate the already really desperate situation of people who are just literally trying to save their own lives.

GREENE: So I guess the argument that people who support changes like this - they'd be thinking that maybe it will be a disincentive. It won't seem as easy to come into the United States if there's going to be a greater financial burden. You're saying that making that assumption is just wrong.

BRANE: It's just the wrong starting point, right? If people are fleeing - asylum is a provision for people who are fleeing persecution or violence and trying to get to safety. It's part of our promise after the Holocaust that we would never again send people back to a place that they're going to die. So when people come to our borders asking for safety, for protection, charging them a fee is not going to really stop them from seeking that protection. This provision is working under the assumption that people are coming here under false pretenses. It's, again, part of this rhetoric about loopholes and fraud, which is just not what we've seen in - to be the reality with people coming to seek asylum.

GREENE: I just want to ask. I mean, aren't there already costs to people in going through this process? - I mean, the legal fees, the travel costs to join family in the United States. What would adding an additional fee in the process - you know, what - why is this change so significant?

BRANE: Well, exactly. I mean, it's not going to change why people come. But it does make yet another hurdle for people to have to go through, right? People are already scraping to find money to make the journey, which is already dangerous. And many people do it walking on foot because they have no other means to get here. They're already very often coming with just the shirt on their back, literally. Everything else is taken from them at the border. So to then expect a fee is really just going to make it impossible for people to go through the legal process, which is what we should be encouraging people to do - to go through an orderly process through ports of entry. Everything this administration has been doing in order to solve the problem from their perspective has been to drive people away from an orderly process.

GREENE: Michelle Brane is senior director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women's Refugee Commission. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

BRANE: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.