SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and other immigrant rights groups have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration's new proclamation that would deny asylum to people who enter the country illegally. The president signed that order yesterday before flying to France. We're joined now by Lindsay Harris, vice chair of the National Asylum and Refugee Committee at the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Thanks very much for being with us.
LINDSAY HARRIS: Thank you so much for having me.
SIMON: I don't know what a - difference between an executive order and a proclamation is.
HARRIS: Well, proclamations seem to be more rare. They do kind of echo of something royal, but it has basically the same effect as an executive order.
SIMON: And how would this change what somebody who wants to apply for asylum must do?
HARRIS: Well, it's trying to bar asylum for people who enter the U.S. in between ports of entry.
SIMON: When you say...
HARRIS: So those people are...
SIMON: When you say - forgive me. When you say in between ports of entry, would some people phrase that as illegally?
HARRIS: Yes. The administration calls that illegal entry.
SIMON: You don't call it illegal entry if it's not through a port of entry.
HARRIS: I don't. I don't call it illegal entry when somebody is seeking asylum because our asylum laws have recognized since 1980 the right for any person who is present in the U.S. regardless of how they got here to seek asylum.
SIMON: And it provides for them to be able to apply for asylum within their first year, as I recall reading the law.
HARRIS: Right. That's another bar that was put in place in 1996, that you're supposed to file within one year of arrival. So what the administration has done this week is try to create a new bar. But that bar actually does conflict directly with the statute, with the Refugee Act from 1980.
SIMON: Ms. Harris, what do you say to those Americans who might say, look; I have a world of sympathy for people who want asylum, it's important for America to be that beacon in the world, but come through a port of entry and apply, don't slip in over the border?
HARRIS: Well, there's a number of reasons why it's very difficult and sometimes impossible for people to come through ports of entry. Often, they don't know they're supposed to do that. People are fleeing for their lives and don't actually know what the proper procedure is or even what asylum is. They just know they're trying to get to a safe place. Others also - what we've been seeing, especially in the last couple of years, is people being unlawfully turned away from ports of entry. Even yesterday, there were reports of the bridge, you know, between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez being closed down. And there's also - so people are waiting for days, sometimes even months, at the border. There have been families turned away nine times when they do walk up to a point of entry and say that they are seeking asylum. And many people don't have the resources to sit and wait in Mexico. And furthermore, there is targeting of migrants and asylum-seekers in Mexico that makes it unsafe for them to stay there. So there's lots of reasons why people would instead cross the river, come over the border and then turn themselves in immediately to Customs and Border Protection.
SIMON: What does the law say as to what the government - what authorities need to do when someone says, I'm here to apply for asylum?
HARRIS: So the law says that, basically, you're then supposed to be asked four questions. And the questions are along the lines of, do you have a fear of returning to your home country? Are you here to seek asylum? Would you be tortured if you returned? If somebody says yes in response to any of those questions, it's supposed to be an automatic referral to a credible fear interview, which is kind of a threshold test to determine whether someone could be eligible for asylum. What Trump and the administration have done in the last couple days is try and take away that credibility fear interview for people who cross in between ports of entry.
SIMON: And if there's no interview, there is no way of gauging their appeal for asylum.
HARRIS: Well, yeah. Well, actually, the government does provide another type of interview that they've made clear they're not taking away, which is called reasonable fear. But then people will only be eligible for a much lesser form of protection called withholding of removal rather than asylum. So they're still going to very likely go through the process and have the full adjudication in immigration court. So nothing about this is actually going to save the government any time, energy or resources.
SIMON: Lindsay Harris, professor of law, co-director of the immigration clinic at the District of Columbia School of Law, thanks so much for being with us.
HARRIS: Thank you very much.