Flashback: Obama Said Crime And Poverty Are Not Qualifiers For Asylum

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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While in office, President Barack Obama said that poverty and crime alone are not justifications for asylum claims, comments that closely mirror the sentiment of the Trump administration.

“[U]nder U.S. law, we admit a certain number of refugees from all around the world based on some fairly narrow criteria. And typically, refugee status is not granted just based on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty. It’s typically defined fairly narrowly — the state, for example, that was targeting political activists and they need to get out of the country for fear of prosecution or even death,” Obama said in July 2014.

The Democratic president even called on asylum seekers to lodge their claims in their own countries.

“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is a humanitarian or a refugee status that a family might be eligible for. If that were the case, it would be better for them to be able to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims,” he said at the time.

Obama’s comments were made during a joint meeting at the White House with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. At the time, the Obama administration was dealing with a migrant crisis of its own. Between the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, family unit apprehensions at the southern border increased by 361% and unaccompanied alien child apprehensions increased by 77%, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

The 2014 surge of illegal aliens from Central America — and Obama’s response — loosely mirror the immigration crisis currently taking place under the Trump administration.

Both administrations are on record criticizing the act of only citing economic conditions or regional violence for U.S. asylum claims. President Donald Trump, for his part, has taken dramatic steps to make asylum seekers file their claims outside the U.S., and has implemented a metering program that reins in the number of asylum applicants who can enter the interior of the country.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services does not grant asylum to foreign nationals who make such attempts, and the agency has cited rules put in place long before Trump entered office.

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures with Vice President Joe Biden after his election night victory speech in Chicago, November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ELECTIONS)

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures with Vice President Joe Biden after his election night victory speech in Chicago, November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

“Under the asylum law, there are five basis to claim asylum. The first four are pretty straight forward: race, religion, nationality, political opinion. Most of the claims from Central America, the Northern Triangle, don’t fall within those four categories,” a Department of Justice official said to the Daily Caller News Foundation, explaining the asylum application process. (RELATED: Obama’s DHS Secretary Calls Democratic Presidential Candidates’ Positions On Immigration ‘Unworkable’ And ‘Unwise’)

“It is clear under the asylum law that general civil strife, bad economic conditions, private acts of violence, interpersonal disputes, private criminal activity, that sort of thing — those are generally not basis for asylum. So individuals coming from these countries, and that’s by and large what they’re leaving, if they want to claim to remain in the United States or an asylum claim, they have to essentially take that situation and fit it within that fifth category,” the official continued.


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