Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.
Asylum has been a basic feature of the U.S. immigration system for immigrants seeking humanitarian refuge in the United States. Asylum has been under attack by the Trump administration, including President Trump’s comment in a speech that “[t]he asylum program is a scam”. As further evidence of this attack on asylum, the top U.S. asylum official has been reassigned as part of the Trump administration’s anti-asylum policies.
According to an email sent to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) staff on September 4, John Lafferty, who had been head of the asylum office at USCIS for 6 years, was reassigned to be deputy director at the D.C.-area USCIS processing center. The reassignment is believed to be a demotion. It was reported that Lafferty will be replaced on an acting basis by Andrew Davidson, who currently runs the USCIS’ fraud detection unit. When questioned about Lafferty’s reassignment, a USCIS official said that USCIS “has the authority to reassign these high-level managers to best serve the agency”.
Lafferty was a career official who received a leadership award last year from USCIS’ then-director, L. Francis Cissna. However, just as Cissna was pushed out of USCIS by the Trump administration in May (replaced as acting director by immigration hardliner Ken Cuccinelli), Lafferty has now been pushed out of the asylum office by the Trump administration.
One asylum officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said concerning Lafferty, “He was pro-asylum officer. . . . He clearly respected their work, and you could tell he wasn’t too enthused about the various new policies under the Trump administration”.
In response to the new asylum restrictions put forth by the Trump administration, Lafferty had sent an email to asylum officers in July, stating that his agency was “once again being asked to adapt, and to do so with very little time to train and prepare. . . . If I didn’t know that we have some of the most dedicated, adaptable, and most talented public servants presently serving in the federal government, I would be concerned about being able to implement these changes on such short notice”. It is believed that this email in particular upset the Trump administration (including immigration senior adviser Stephen Miller) and led to Lafferty’s reassignment.
Several government immigration persons criticized Lafferty’s reassignment. One USCIS official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said, “This is just another attack on the asylum system. . . . To remove someone with his knowledge of and history with the program will cause damage. The administration views him as just another loophole”.
Another USCIS official said, “This is shocking and distressing news for the civil servants in the Asylum Division. . . . A very sad day where an incredibly sophisticated, highly dedicated, and ethical leader is being removed from an important position in the agency”. An asylum officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “I’m scared. Wondering how we’ll make it through to next year. . . . It’s all the more chilling because many of us saw Lafferty as a shield against this monstrous administration. He fell. What’s next?”.
While personnel is not the same as policy, by reassigning John Lafferty, the Trump administration is seeking to have more supportive personnel in place to carry out its anti-asylum policies and possibly even develop and issue new anti-asylum policies. Immigrants seeking to navigate the anti-asylum framework being created by the Trump administration need the support of competent immigration lawyers, such as theKameli Law, which for years has successfully represented immigrants on miscellaneous issues, to assist with their cases. If you need help with any immigration issue, please contact the Kameli Law, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-233-1000, for representation.