Skip to content
May 12, 2020

Engel, Thompson, Nadler & Menendez Reject Administration’s Legal Explanation for Halting Asylum Processing

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Chairmen Eliot L. Engel of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Bennie G. Thompson of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Jerrold L. Nadler of the House Committee on the Judiciary and Ranking Member Bob Menendez of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations rejected the Trump Administration’s legal justification for its decision to halt asylum processing during the COVID-19 pandemic. After seeking answers on this issue for nearly two months, the lawmakers received a deeply flawed legal opinion from the Department of State in late April that the administration apparently concocted after the Asylum Ban had been in effect for more than a month. 

Writing to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, the four congressional leaders questioned the public-health rationale of the Asylum Ban, pointing out that it places no restrictions on travelers arriving by plane or boat from countries with high rates of COVID-19. The lawmakers questioned how the suspension of processing asylum claims is consistent with U.S. and international law and sought details about who has been affected by this policy since it went into place.

“Protecting public health and protecting individuals from persecution or torture are not mutually exclusive – the United States must do both.  As such, we are deeply concerned that the Administration appears to be using the COVID-19 outbreak as a pretext to expel asylum seekers in clear violation of its obligations under domestic and international law to protect individuals fleeing persecution or torture,” wrote Engel, Thompson, Nadler, and Menendez. “The April 24 Opinion does not alleviate these concerns.  Instead, the opinion raises serious questions about the accuracy of the Administration’s claims of protecting public health, the legality of the Asylum Ban, and the Administration’s respect for the rule of law.”

The letter gave the administration a May 22 deadline to provide additional answers and information.

Last month, Chairmen Engel, Thompson, and Nadler voiced concern about the administration’s then refusal to provide any explanation about the decision to halt the processing of asylum claims. The legal opinion that the administration ultimately provided is dated April 24, suggesting it was crafted well after the policy had been put into place. The administration’s legal opinion can be found here.

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

#  #  #

Press Contact

Tim Mulvey (Engel)

Adam Comis (Thompson)

Daniel Schwarz (Nadler)

Juan Pachon (Menendez)