The Democratic Party has released its 2020 Party Platform, which represents the Democrats' aspirations for the next four years. Separately, the Biden/Harris campaign has released its immigration plan. Both plans contain concrete policy suggestions (as well as plenty of hyperbole), and here I want to discuss the points that relate directly to asylum.

Before we get to that, let's briefly look at the most important points related to immigration generally, since these proposals would also affect asylum seekers. In terms of immigration, the Democratic Party Platform seeks to accomplish the following--
  • Stop work on the border wall
  • End the Muslim ban
  • Protect Dreamers and parents of U.S. citizen children
  • End the public charge rule (form I-944)
  • Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants living in the U.S.
  • Reduce immigration backlogs
  • Make it easier for spouses and children of Green Card holders to come to the United States
  • End the 3/10 year bar
  • Expand protections for victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking
  • Provide stronger work-place protections for non-citizen and undocumented workers
  • End workplace and community raids
  • Re-instate prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases
  • Prioritize alternatives to detention and end the practice of holding non-citizens for long periods
  • Consider expanding TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for people from war-torn countries
  • In terms of enforcement, prioritize criminals and others who threaten our national security
  • Reform employment-based visas for immigrant and non-immigrant workers
  • Provide more support services for new immigrants, so they can better integrate into U.S. society
  • End the use of for-profit detention centers
  • Increase the number of refugees admitted into the country
The Platform also contains a number of proposals that relate more specifically to asylum--
  • End policies that make it more difficult for victims of gang violence and domestic violence to receive asylum
  • End the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers at the border and stop separating families
  • End policies designed to force asylum seekers to apply for protection in a "safe third country"
  • End the Migrant Protection Protocols (the "wait in Mexico" policy)
  • Send humanitarian resources to the border to deal with the migration crisis
  • Send more Asylum Officers to the border, and for asylum seekers who "pass" a credible fear interview, have an Asylum Officer--as opposed to an Immigration Judge--review the full case
  • Double the number of Immigration Judges, court staff, and interpreters

This is an ambitious agenda, and it is certainly more pro-immigrant than what we saw during the Obama Administration. Whether these goals can realistically be implemented, I do not know.

As for the proposals related to asylum, you can see that they are largely designed to reverse policies of the Trump Administration, and they mainly apply to migrants arriving at our Southern border. Mr. Trump's policies have been abhorrent and ineffective (and not always legal), and so we obviously need to do something different at the border. The risk is that by deploying more resources to the border, the government will be unable to interview affirmative asylum seekers, thus further increasing the backlog. Also, if Mr. Biden's policies encourage more migrants to come here, that could further strain the system and result in a political backlash.

In terms of changing the asylum law, Mr. Biden's only substantive proposal is to reverse Trump-era restrictions on asylum for victims of domestic violence and criminal gangs. This is an important issue, since so many asylum seekers (especially from Central America) are fleeing these types of harm. Persecution by criminals and domestic partners has not traditionally been a basis for asylum eligibility. Over years of litigation, the scope of asylum protection has expanded to include LGBT individuals, victims of female genital mutilation, and to a lesser extent, victims of domestic and gang violence (under the rubric of "particular social group"). But since President Trump came into office, his Administration has been rolling back these gains, particularly with regard to persecution by criminal gangs and domestic partners. If Mr. Biden is elected and reverses this trend, more people would qualify for protection and lives will be saved, but this could also encourage more people to seek protection in our country.

To deal with this concern, Mr. Biden's plan includes an effort to address the root causes of migration from Central America (violence, lawlessness, impunity, and poverty). Hopefully that would help improve the situation in those countries and mitigate the number of people seeking protection in the U.S. But in terms of our immigration system, more needs to be done.

Specifically, we need an honest national conversation about who should be eligible for asylum and how many asylum seekers we should admit. Unfortunately, in the current environment, this seems impossible. But until we can have such a conversation, and reach some semblance of a consensus, asylum will remain a political wedge issue and asylum seekers will continue suffering from backlogs and shifting eligibility standards. In the event that Joe Biden takes office in January, I hope that this conversation will be part of his agenda, and that he will work with Congress and the public to reach a sustainable solution for asylum seekers.

Overall, Mr. Biden's asylum plans seem largely reactive--he wants to reverse the damage caused by the Trump Administration. But he is also advocating for a broad immigration reform, which would benefit many non-citizens, including many asylum seekers. Even if all he did was speak truthfully about migration and respect the law, Mr. Biden would be a vast improvement over what we have now. Let us all resolve to do what we can to help Mr. Biden succeed in November and beyond.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: