Department of Homeland Security

US has granted refugee status to just two people since March: report

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The U.S. has granted refugee status to just two people since March 21 as the coronavirus pandemic prompted officials to limit the number of refugees coming into the country, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Two people seeking humanitarian protection at the southern border were approved to stay in the U.S., the Post reported that unpublished U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data showed. 

USCIS has conducted 59 screening interviews between March 21 and May 13 under the only category of protection still available during the pandemic: the Convention Against Torture. 

Out of those 59, 54 were rejected and three cases are still pending, according to the data obtained by the Post.

President Trump’s administration has cited the pandemic as reasoning for suspending most of the due process rights of migrants to protect both Americans and migrants. Officials say they are trying to reduce the number of detainees in U.S. Border Patrol custody because of concerns that coronavirus will rapidly spread in these facilities. 

Officials have also sent more than 20,000 unauthorized border-crossers back to Mexico, citing the pandemic.

Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, stood by the current restrictions saying they are intended as a public health response and not permanent immigration policy. 

But the administration has long been trying to limit immigration into the country, with the president’s big campaign promise being to build a wall on the southern border. Before the pandemic, Trump officials had attempted to reduce entry with requirements for migrants to wait outside the U.S. before their hearings and policies to ship some asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala. 

Advocates argue the Trump administration is taking advantage of the pandemic to implement its desired immigration policies. 

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson said President Trump’s goal is “to protect the American people”

“The Trump administration is taking swift action within its lawful authority to secure our borders and protect Americans from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

“Under our lawful authority, the Department of Homeland Security will promptly return aliens home in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 unless they express a fear of return to their home country,” the spokesperson added. “If the alien expresses a fear of return, that claim will be promptly heard and considered in accordance with all applicable laws, policies, and regulations.”

The U.S. granted asylum to 13,248 people in 2018, according to the DHS’s most recent data.

The U.S. is the country most affected by the coronavirus, with more than 1.3 million confirmed cases and at least 83,356 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

–This report was updated on May 14 at 5:43 a.m.

Tags asylum-seekers coronavirus covid-19 Department of Homeland Security Donald Trump Immigration Immigration to the United States Mexico–United States border Pandemic Refugee U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

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