Columns, Op-Eds, & Interviews Immigration & Justice

Op-Ed: Why America Needs More, Not Fewer, People Seeking Asylum

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

Editor’s Note: Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered judges to deny asylum to most people fleeing violent gangs or domestic violence in their countries of origin. “Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” Sessions wrote in a ruling. “The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

This policy has led to the prosecution of asylum seekers and the separation of parents and their children.

Kari Hong is an Assistant Professor at Boston College Law School, where she founded the Ninth Circuit Appellate Program. Hong is an expert in immigration law, criminal law, and immigration consequences of criminal convictions. Her commentary below, talks about how seeking asylum is not a crime, and how to those conversant with the law who are working with immigrants, it appears that the Trump Administration has launched a “racketeering scheme” that ensnares and wrongfully criminalizes thousands.

By Kari Hong

Asylum-seekers have seen more ugliness in the human experience than most of us. But as I’ve worked with them, I’ve observed again and again that people who have every right to be bitter and angry somehow respond with hope. They often have an unshakeable faith in religion, a desire to help others and a belief that America manifests its ideals.

Painter Augustus Annus observed that those fleeing persecution are not ruined people; to the contrary, they cherish most what force cannot take away.

Many Americans do not understand that asylum-seekers at our borders are not poor, uneducated people who will burden our country. Instead, the persecuted have character and values that uniquely contribute to our democracy.

First, it is not illegal to ask for asylum or cross a border to do so. When Soviet ballet dancers and scientists did both, our country collectively cheered. But today, the Trump administration lies, casting asylum-seekers as “liars” and “criminals.” By statute, anyone seeking asylum “shall” receive an interview, a right available to all, “irrespective of such alien’s status.”

In plain language, a person who is in our country — regardless of how they crossed the border — has a right to have an asylum officer determine if they are in danger.

So why have thousands of asylum-seekers been convicted of a crime? It is the government’s misconduct, not the immigrants’, that is illegal. The “improper entry” misdemeanor does not apply to asylum-seekers. But thousands of parents, whose children have been taken from them, are coerced to plead guilty to this wrongful charge. And, they are told that if they contest it, they will be separated from their children while awaiting trial.

This racketeering scheme is procuring convictions that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen hold up as their bounty to justify the asylum crackdown. This is new. And it serves a chilling purpose.

Hannah Arendt observed that Nazi Germany succeeded by convincing the public that a certain group of people are criminal and therefore among “the lowest level of society.” Once that took hold, this group deserved whatever mistreatment the government meted out.

Second, some deride asylum-seekers as economic migrants. But do we really want a “merit-based” system giving us immigrants who thrived in North Korea, Saudi Arabia or Putin’s Russia? What have they done, and whom have they hurt, to “succeed” in systems where corruption and oppression are the currency of advancement?

By contrast, those who show up penniless at our borders are the ones who’ve passed the most brutal tests of courage, rejecting the exploitation of others, at the cost of losing their worldly possessions and homes.

Third, those from countries with political prisoners, kangaroo courts and corruption appreciate that the United States is without those flaws. I have had both Salvadoran and Mexican clients volunteer to be U.S. government informants, prosecuting the criminal gangs their own country won’t.

Fourth, I know very well how the foreign-born who flee persecution also transmit “American” values to citizens. My father was a WWII orphan. My grandparents adopted him, forever transformed by their own refugee work. My father grew up in Minnesota and served as a 20-year military officer.

Our family had frequent political discussions. But when someone disparaged a particular policy, my father was the first to say that we are lucky to live in a country where we could disagree with our government.

That was not empty rhetoric. His own biological father was arrested by the Soviets and locked up as a political prisoner. By registering his political disagreement with a repressive regime, he lost his freedom, his livelihood and his children.

The current administration’s demonization of asylum-seekers underscores that it is not enough to fight the brutal cruelty of the family separation policy. It also is critical to denounce the ways our country has wrongly dismantled asylum protections for the past 20 years.

Under the radar, the Trump administration is taking away hearings, making domestic violence victims no longer eligible for asylum and disciplining or firing immigration judges who do not deport enough people.

This is irrational. Asylum-seekers are in real danger. Eighty-eight percent have passed a “credible fear” screening, meaning the vast majority will likely qualify for status if they are given a fair hearing.

This is immoral. We have enough room for all. In 2016, only 20,455 people were granted asylum — 3 percent of all legal immigrants, not even enough to fill a quarter of many football stadiums.

But our government weaponizes misery. As recently as 2013, 92 percent of asylum-seekers were not detained. But the Obama and Trump administrations both implemented misguided policies to detain asylum-seekers, taking away procedural protections for fair hearings and denying access to lawyers (even to children) with the stated goal that government-imposed suffering will incentivize asylum-seekers to forsake the protections they are due.

Instead of debating who was worse, let’s join together and agree that we — our country — cannot afford to continue our dedicated and systematic hostility to asylum-seekers anymore.

It is time to end family separation. It is time to end the detention of all asylum-seekers. It is time to reform asylum law to be more welcoming. Many foreign-born people now facing persecution, ironically, are likely to be the best guardians for American values of freedom, hope and liberty. Our country needs more — not fewer — people with the character and convictions of those at our border.

Kari Hong, an assistant professor at Boston College Law School, is an expert in immigration law, immigration consequences of criminal convictions, criminal law and family law.

This op-ed was originally published by WBUR’s Cognoscenti.

For more on the issue of family separation and the long-term effects of toxic stress on kids bodies and brains, we recommend this commentary by Jane Ellen Stevens, of ACES Too High.


  • And the professor is a pathological LIAR! The picture shown in Time mag of the little girl is now proven a FAKE. The girl was never separated from her mom. The Father, back in Honduras, doesn’t understand why mom left leaving him with three other kids. Isn’t that child abandonment? Yes it is, mom should be prosecuted and sent back to answer charges. To compare what we are doing, currently, at the border to what happened in Germany or Russia is an outrage! Once again, let’s thank former President Barack Obama for his racist views and not passing immigration reform when he had both houses of congress and a filibuster proof senate!! Name one president (past 50 years) that truly enforced humane immigration reform? At least President Trump has said he would sign a bill if congress (both Dem and Rep) can get a bill to his desk. That’s right too close to midterms, isn’t it??

  • Maybe I missed it but I did not read anything about the Time magazine cover concerning the little girl. The Professor was writing about people from all countries who seek asylum in the United States. I concur with the WLA guest writer, however I would love to hear any credible opposition to her article.

  • This article is a pretty standard example of “Trump derangement syndrome”. Enforcing US immigration law is a “racketeering scheme” , “immoral”, and as always, the mandatory comparison with Nazi Germany. The immigrants are blameless angles who only want entry in order to make America a better place, if only they can get by the evil Sessions, who is ,of course, a racketeering nazi. I find it odd that people like Ms. Hong believe two things that seem the opposite of each other are true at the same time. 1) America is a wonderful land of opportunity, the greatest county in the world and we should let everyone in 2) America is a horrible place full of racist white Nazis who only want to oppress and exploit people of color. Crazy stuff, wonder when Celeste is just going to start having cf post articles (assuming she isn’t already under her real name)

  • Oh, no. Now you did it Celeste. We need more people seeking asylum? Some people on this site will be pisssssssed. But, no worries, they’ll bitch and moan but they will not leave.

    Um, you have really drank the Fox Kool Aid. And, Obama racist? Self-hating black, right. But, I am sure, you have the utmost respect for Clarence Thomas, an example of what a good, accomplished black man looks like, no doubt. Be honest, do you still doubt Obama was born in the US? Last 50 years? How about Ronnie who gave us Amnesty. Finally, I agree with you, Obama screwed up not passing it when he had congress. A novice mistake thinking he could get bipartisan support. He was suckered. We agree on something.

    Maj. Kong, thanks for the support and for asking Celeste to allow me to post articles. I would welcome the opportunity. But, maybe I am already posting articles? Maybe you have been duped all this time. And, America can have both wonderful things going for it and some serious flaws. And, no, America is not the best country in the world. That comes from a simple mind who has never been outside of America, or beyond his hills. Your brand of patriotism is dangerous. As George Bernard Shaw said, patriotism is the believe that your country is superior because you were born in it. You aren’t that special, my brother. And, you right, neither am I. If America is not the greatest, why am I still here, you’ll ask. Because its home, where I grew up and where my friends and family are. And, because I don’t drink the Love-It-Or-Leave-It Kool Aid.

    And, no, I don’t think Sessions is a racketeering Nazi. A racist man, yes. An angry man who longs for the good ‘ole days when those who made the laws and enforced them looked like him, yes. Like you. I understand your anger. Your representatives have left you behind, forgotten you while others get rich, while people than don’t look like you run the state, while gays and women compete for your job. I understand. I think the concentration of wealth is a huge problem and leaves the Maj. Kongs of the world in despair at being left behind. Its a bitch when you see that the groups with the highest per-capita income, the ones thriving are foreigners- the Egyptians, the Nigerians, etc. Then you go to East LA, South Gate, Montebello and you would think you are in Mexico. You into San Gabriel, Alhambra, Monterey Park and you would think you are in China. Go down Olympic, from Hoover to Crenshaw and you might as well be in South Korea. I understand that you feel left behind, pissed. And then, to top it off, no one respects you and your badge anymore. Makes you want to cry. I understand, but I do not agree. Let me tell you who had bad immigration laws-the Native Americans.

  • Cf you know I was commenting on an article right? You know, that bunch of paragraphs above the comment section. Trump really has you twisted up, frothing as the mouth, your obsession is getting weird. Get that TRUMP tattoo on your heinie yet? It might help with breaking up all that tension. Btw thanks for the honesty regarding your hate for America, of course everything you say drips of self hatred,so it’s not too surprising,but it is hilarious.

  • I know the editor has total control in regards to what opinion articles are posted and by whom, but it would be nice for once if a counter-point article was posted for once.

    This piece was an opinionated, biased based article that needs a rebuttal.

    Lawyers are skilled at using rhetoric and cherry picked data to support their arguments. Journalist on the other hand, used to be the folks you could depend on to fact find and just report the facts.

  • Referring to President O’Bama, a Harvard educated lawyer, two term President, community organizer and former editor of the Harvard Law Review as a “novice” was very dismissive and condescending. I guess a “bi-racial”, oh black man, can never get it right.

    Why do so many crappy Latin American countries like Mexico try to stand on a throne of judgement and arrogance when their countries are cesspools for the majority of their people. Their governments have no shame or embarrassment for the shear fact their governments are so corrupt and socially biased, they let their people get killed and don’t protect them. Let’s be honest, the best, brightest and most talented aren’t illegally immigrating across the boarder, they have no reason too leave and are content. This country had became a dumping ground for those people Mexico and the like could care less about.

  • Just so you know C.F., if you didn’t already, I’ll remind you. The people of color and different ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles County that you mentioned are only frequented by certain Cops while on duty. Do you really think they would try to explore other cultures? The hiding spots of suburban living are dwindling in SoCal.

  • You sure about that? Black population in LA way down and dropping fast. According to the race /grievance industry Asians don’t count…so

  • By the way this is what Celeste does like many absolute cop haters. She’ll pretend she’s upset when some cop gets killed but it just doesn’t wash, libs just can’t pull it off when their so invested in their very far left causes concerning emptying our jails, taking weapons from cops making every killing of a Black the fault of the officer, doing everything you can to protect the rights of gangs and nothing to help protect those in their neighborhoods, like you know support 2A rights. Nope, it’s all about the poor bad guys who drug a nice kid out of a store in the Bronx yesterday and stabbed him to death, that’s who she thinks needs sympathy and understand. The dead kid, bye.

    Same with the hate Trump group who loved to suck off Obama. They keep losing at everything they throw at him so know we have this manufactured crisis with the illegal kids. Meanwhile this is from Ben Rhodes new book.

    2013, Basher-el-Assad killed hundreds of Syrian civilians with chemical weapons, and the White House debated whether to punish the regime for crossing Obama’s stated “red line”. The President decided to leave the decision to Congress, which meant meant no military action. “It will drive a stake through the heart of neoconservatism”, he told his advisers. “Everyone will see they have no votes.” Obama regarded this decision as a clever tactical win.

    The left does not care about victims, it’s a total lie to say they do. They use victimhood as a selling point for a vote only if the victims are those supposed ones that are from an incident with law enforcement (usually deserved), entering here illegally, gay or the mentally ill transgendered ( yeah let me cut my penis or breasts off I feel differently it’s ok, let me cut my arm or leg off I feel differently you’re mentally ill…it’s all the same boys and girls) or even minor kids needing an abortion without parental permission. Dead babies by the truckload, they laugh about them and it’s on video.

    There you have WLA and CF/Reg hates when people make points these points and cries “why are you here?”

    Cause I like to watch the show. N

  • Hey Joe: Good to see you’re still around so let’s get back to local news. Any consensus of Bob Lindsey’s people coming to reality and backing Alex Villanueva for Sheriff? Seeing that everyone wants a change, this is the route to go. I along with others would love to hear the game plan from Bob’s side. Have at it.

  • I don’t know yet what their plan is, I have not heard much about uniting behind Alex. I agree with you, most Sheriffs’ personnel, dislike McDonnell for lack of a better word. Bob Lindsey energized the rank and file, but it was very disappointing and baffling to watch the election results. It does not make any sense. Whatever the reasons for the election results, I hope Alex and Bob reach to each other and put out a plan together. The ultimate goal is to get McDonnell out of the office, he has mismanaged the office, and his level of corruption is the same or worse as the previous regime he replaced. Same modus operandi different agenda.

  • Unfortunately there is no appeal process for Bob, the people have spoken so let’s move on. I’ll be frank with you with you and everyone else out there and that is to make a forever decision and live with it. The division amongst the ranks doesn’t help at all, with many complaints mostly by lazy asses who only bitch and moan. Let’s go to work.

  • I agree, the LASD has a fair share of lazy people, yet, those are the ones running the department. The real deputies doing, the real work, are an endangered species. The working deputy is the one being terminated at the greater rate. The working deputy is the one who has a greater chance of getting into any situation that could get them killed or worse, terminated.

    If you work for the sheriff’s department you know what I am talking about, you have a better chance of moving ahead by being lazy, and unskilled. Just look at the IAB/ICIB people, if you know some of them, you will know precisely what I am talking about, unskilled, and lazy.

  • Being a Trump supporter and the photo op with Leroy Baca tempered his campaign. It’s history now.

  • Crappy and arrogant Latin American countries like Mexico? Oh boy, you just don’t know the half of it.

    Suffice to say that for every crappy and arrogant country you can mention as it relates to US, I can list you a few US foreign policies we’ve bestowed upon those countries. And here’s a small sample of this since you’ve mention Mexico.

    The Merida Initiative

    Established in 2007, the Merida Initiative has transformed our bilateral relationship with Mexico and is a pillar of our overall cooperation. Merida Initiative projects support Mexico’s efforts to improve security, enhance criminal prosecutions and rule of law, build public confidence in the justice sector, improve border security and reduce irregular migration, and promote greater respect for human rights.

    I’ve copied and pasted the above statement straight from the State Department website. If you’ve noticed from the statement, Mexico has not made improvements in any of the stated goals. In fact all those supposedly areas of cooperation have gotten worse. So why is our government so eager to keep the billions and billions of our dollars on such a failed plan? Because somebody benefits from this chaos and it ain’t you nor me. As the saying goes, “follow the money”! Like in Iraq, did you or I benefited? Hell no. Did the Iraqis benefited from our way of spreading “democracy”? Hell no. But sure as hell somebody did. And here’s the reason for some of our everyday problems, a US corporation or a corrupt government somewhere is benefiting at our expense. We pay for the war, we provide the manpower(enlisted military), while “they” enjoy the rewards. In other words our government socializes all expenses incurred, while privatizing all the gains.

    And in the mean time, they are fomenting hatred and division among us, right here at home, just so we don’t pay attention to what’s really going on. Socialist causes are bad for the citizenry but a God given right for the super wealthy and corporations.

    Hope you’ve paid attention to this small class in world affairs and how cause and effect with a little bit of blow back affects us all in one way or another. I just hope that Russia does not give us a taste of our own medicine. Or China or any other emerging super power……………

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