Accuracy in Media

President Donald Trump’s order yesterday to resume requiring asylum seekers to pay a fee for their case to be heard brought a spate of condemnation from the mainstream media.

“Trump’s proposed fee on asylum seekers would burden the poor,” reads the headline on the Associated Press’ story by Nomaan Merchant and Colleen Long.

“Donald Trump wants to charge asylum seekers to process applications as migrants seek US entry,” reads the headline at USA Today.

“Trump order tough new restrictions that would turn ‘asylum on its head,’” reads the headline at The Independent.

But as Laurel Wamsley of NPR pointed out in “Trump Calls For Asylum-Seekers to Pay Fees, Proposing New Restrictions,” the “Immigration and Nationality Act already includes a provision that permits the U.S. to impose fees on foreign nationals seeking asylum or work authorization,” although “critics say such fees may be impossible for many asylum-seekers to pay, unless financial waivers are granted liberally.”

The AP painted the picture from the other side of the border. “They’ve fled violence-ridden homelands, often arriving at the U.S. border deep in debt, paying $7,000 or more to smugglers,” Merchant and Long wrote. Under Trump’s “latest immigration proposal, they could face another demand on their meager resources: A fee to process their asylum applications. It’s not known how much the fee might be, but any amount would likely be a burden.”

It then quotes a woman from Honduras who was trying to get into the U.S. with her 5-year-old son. “’If we came from our country, it’s because we didn’t have the opportunity to work. We don’t have money.’”

It does not note that this quote would effectively make her ineligible for asylum, which is available only to those who can establish they would be in danger of being persecuted by the government if they return to their home countries.

“Critics say those changes” – Trump also seeks to deny work permits to those who enter the country illegally and require asylum cases to be decided within 180 days, a huge task given the perennial and growing backlogs at the border – “would unfairly punish the most vulnerable people in the world, those who are fleeing violence, poverty and food insecurity as Central America is gripped by a widespread, persistent drought,” they wrote.

The USA Today story, by Alan Gomez, quotes a Democrat member of Congress from California, the director of the refugee program at Human Rights Firsts and a statement from an immigrant-rights group that has attempted legal challenges to Trump’s efforts to crack down on the southern border.

But it quotes no one except Trump – and then only briefly – explaining that at least four in five asylum seekers will have their claims denied and that the cost of adjudicating these claims has risen dramatically in recent years.

The AP story quoted the same advocate for the group that challenges Trump’s efforts, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and two immigrants seeking entry to the U.S. It does provide the views of Kevin McAleenan, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, who said the department was running out of money and resources to deal with the mass of people coming to the border.

The Independent implied the president was out of his lane with his proposals. The letter to McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr outlining the proposals “took another step to reshape asylum law, which is determined by Congress, from the White House.”

It quoted only one person – Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, saying, “The entire idea of asylum is that it’s something that you need because you are fleeing some sort of violence or persecution. And then to say that it’s only accessible to people who can pay a fee doesn’t make sense.”

Above that paragraph, the authors, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Caitlin Dickerson, pointed out applicants “must show evidence of past persecution and establish a ‘well-founded’ fear that they would face danger if they returned home.”

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