By now, you’re probably familiar with the famous, anonymous op-ed in the New York Times, written by a high-level member of the White House staff who is "resisting" President Trump. But in asylum-world, there’s another anonymous article getting attention. It’s an interview in Topic Magazine with an un-named asylum officer.

The interview is sad and poignant. It’s obvious that the officer cares about his (or her) job and the individuals who are seeking protection in the United States. With the advent of the Trump Administration and it’s increasingly hostile approach to asylum seekers, the officer is facing a crisis of conscious: "I struggle every single day with how to determine whether I’m causing more harm than good," the officer states.

{"data-align":"none","data-size":"full","height":"183","width":"275","src":"http:\/\/www.asylumist.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/2018\/09\/Asylum-Officers.png"} Asylum Officers review the latest Trump Administration policy memo.


One example the officer gives is the implementation of the infamous "zero tolerance" policy at the border, where parents and children were separated, often by trickery, and with no real plan for reunification:

I was interviewing moms in detention who were separated from their children. [U.S. government officials] took their children away from them. All that they wanted from me was to know where their kids were. They would ask me, “Where are my children?” But I was told not to tell them where their kids were. I was told not to tell them. When I say I’m complicit, this is what I mean.

Obviously, looking a desperate mother in the eyes and declining to give her information about her children is a soul-crushing experience. And, according to the anonymous officer, the Administration's policies are having a deleterious effect on asylum officers:

People in the office are demoralized. I think the job was hard to begin with. There were already very high expectations, very rigorous screenings. Now, there is a fear among upper-level officers that the [asylum] program could get cut altogether, so everyone is trying very hard to not make any mistakes so that the program doesn’t get cut. My worry is that this will lead to people who should get asylum not getting asylum.... [At] this point, I can’t yet fathom what [bad thing] will happen next. I don’t want to, but I’m sure it will come. I never thought they would take kids away from their parents. What else could they do? They did that, so they could do anything.

What should a decent, moral person do in a situation like this? For me (as an outsider), the answer is not so clear. I have friends who have left government because they could not contribute to the goals of the Trump Administration. Other friends have chosen to stay, to do whatever good they can. Which approach is better probably depends on the individual and her circumstances, and I am quite sure it is not an easy decision either way.

If it were me, one factor in deciding whether to stay or go would be the impact of my choice on the asylum system. I have written this before, but it bears repeating here: In many ways our asylum system is sacred. Our country grants protection to strangers who arrive on our shores seeking refuge from danger. We offer asylum in part because it serves our national interests. But we also offer asylum because we are generous and good. By helping others, we help define ourselves. My decision to leave would depend in part on whether I thought my departure would make "the system" better or worse.

Asylum Officers, Immigration Judges, and government attorneys implement the asylum law. Without them, there would be no humanitarian immigration system. In my experience, most of these people are hard working. The majority are clearly committed to the rule of law, and to Justice (though we don't always agree on what "Justice" looks like). They take their responsibilities seriously and recognize the life-changing nature of their work. They are the ones who have to make the difficult choices (choices that lawyers like me do not have to make): Whether to grant a close case or deny a sympathetic one that simply does not qualify for relief; whether to give an applicant the benefit of the doubt; whether to grant or deny as a matter of discretion. These are the tough choices that ultimately allow "the system" to continue functioning.

So it seems to me, the question for the anonymous asylum officer and many hundreds like him, is whether there is still room in the system--and in his particular job--to do Justice. In the case of our officer, it appears that such room still exists.

Even as the Trump Administration is working overtime to narrow the path for asylum seekers, it is still possible to do good. As the anonymous officer notes, "there is still space to be fair, and to provide opportunities for people." And it's not just fairness; it's also kindness. Speaking about female asylum seekers detained at the Southern border, the officer says:

I think that oftentimes for the women who are detained at those facilities, [my interaction with them] will be the first moment that someone will be kind to them. The very first time in the whole process. They are not treated well at the border, by other agents in other agencies....

The value of such kindness is difficult to overstate. It can be the difference between hope and despair. Even for people who are ultimately denied, the fact that they were treated with respect and fairness makes a real difference. I have seen that myself many times.

As an attorney who represents asylum seekers, I hope that the anonymous officer will stay. When good people depart government service, the rule of law is degraded. The decency and compassion that have been--to borrow a word--the loadstars of our asylum system, are further eroded. And of course, the erosion of our humanitarian immigration system also marks a degradation of our country's humanity.

These days, many good people in government are conflicted. The anonymous officer states, "I think about it [quitting] all the time." I don't blame the officer for this. It is painful to compromise one's morals. But now, more than ever, I think we need people like this officer to stay. To do their jobs. And to pursue Justice.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.