Take Action to Prevent New Proposed Regulations Barring Asylum

On July 9, 2020, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security jointly released a proposed regulation that further attempts to shut down the U.S. asylum system by linking public health concerns with the right to seek asylum. HIAS stands with everyone who wants to keep the United States safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, shutting the door, again, on asylum seekers is not the answer.

Between now and August 9, the public can comment on these proposed changes, which include provisions that would:

  • Bar asylum-seekers if they come from a country where COVID-19 is present.

  • Bar doctors, nurses, aides, and other essential personnel who work in medical settings from asylum if they have “come into contact with” COVID-19 while they have served American communities during the pandemic response.

  • Bar asylum seekers from protection if they contracted COVID-19 while waiting for their asylum hearing, including asylum seekers who contract COVID-19 while in immigration detention centers.

  • Allow the administration to possibly expand the ban to bar asylum seekers with other diseases.

HIAS opposes this latest attack on the U.S. asylum system, and we ask that you all join us in letting the administration know that this latest set of proposed changes is both unnecessary and cruel. Make a public comment now and help prevent this rule from going into effect. The deadline to submit is August 10 at 11:59 ET.

Before these changes can be finalized, the administration has to review every single unique comment that they receive. Your comments are very important!

Here’s how to submit a comment:

  • Go to this link to submit your comment. 

  • Draft your comment using the template below. Make sure that you personalize your comment (even just add a sentence or two), because all duplicative submissions will be discarded

Sample Comment

I am writing to share my strong opposition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) (the Departments) Joint Notice of Proposed  Rulemaking: Security Bars and Processing; RIN 1125-AB08 / 1615-AC57 / Docket No:  USCIS 2020-0013/ A.G. Order No. 4747-2020.

I object to this proposed rule, because it is wholly unnecessary and could result in barring people with well-founded fear of persecution from exercising their legal right to seek asylum. It would, among other things:

  • Bar asylum-seekers if they come from a country where COVID-19 is present.

  • Bar doctors, nurses, aides, and other essential personnel who work in medical settings from asylum if they have “come into contact with” COVID-19 while they have served American communities during the pandemic response.

  • Bar asylum seekers from protection if they contracted COVID-19 while waiting for their asylum hearing, including asylum seekers who contract COVID-19 while in immigration detention centers.

  • Allow the administration to possibly expand the ban to bar asylum seekers with other diseases.

The United States already has the tools that it needs to screen immigrants for potential health risks. Additionally, U.S. borders have been shut down to asylum seekers since March, making this proposed rule redundant. 

Turning back asylum seekers to countries where they might face serious harm upon return, without allowing them meaningful opportunities to seek protection, violates the United States’ international treaty obligations under the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees  and its 1967 Protocol[1]  to which the United States is a signatory. The U.S. is obligated to comply with the principle of non-refoulement-an asylum seeker cannot be sent to another territory or state where they fear threats to their life or freedom on protected grounds. The tenants of these international treaties are also codified in our domestic law, the Refugee Act of 1980 (Pub. L. No. 96-212).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), recently issued a guidance[2] that underscores that states have the authority to take necessary measures to attempt to thwart the rapid spread of a public health threat, but they cannot do so in violation of long standing legal standards. If implemented, this rule would allow DHS to quickly deport people it determines pose a “danger to the security of the United States” based on public health grounds, without any due process. 

[Insert your own opinions about why you support a strong U.S. asylum system and why you oppose these new proposed changes. For example, why does this latest attack on the U.S. asylum system mean to you as a Jewish American? Does your family have a refugee story? Are you friends with someone who is an asylum seeker or was granted asylum? Do you know asylum seekers or asylees who are helping with the COVID-19 response? Do you work/volunteer with refugees? Have you seen firsthand how refugees contribute to your community?]

For these reasons, the Departments should immediately withdraw this proposed regulation. Instead, the administration should ensure that any public health efforts designed to combat the spread of COVID-19 do not violate individuals’ right to seek asylum, even during a public health emergency.


[1] United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Jan. 31, 1967, [1968] 19 U.S.T. 6223, T.I.A.S. No. 6577, 606 U.N.T.S. 268.

[2] https://www.refworld.org/docid/5e7132834.html