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♪ ("LAST WEEK TONIGHT" THEME PLAYS) ♪
Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns immigration.
It's absolutely central to the American story.
As it's sometimes clumsily expressed in cartoons like this.
♪ They'd heard about a country Where life might let them win ♪
♪ They paid the fare to America And there they melted in ♪
♪ Lovely Lady Liberty With her book of recipes ♪
♪ And the finest one she's got ♪
♪ Is the Great American Melting Pot ♪
♪ The Great American Melting Pot ♪
Okay. Deeply weird metaphor aside there I will say this,
if you're cooking a bunch of humans
in a melting pot, don't include the English.
Believe me. We'll ruin the dish.
We're bland and yet also totally overpowering to the palate.
We're basically the cilantro of the human race.
Now, we've talked about immigration repeatedly
on this show, but tonight we're gonna focus
on just one narrow area of it, asylum.
It's the legal process by which people who are
fleeing persecution and make it to the U.S. can apply to stay here.
And asylum seekers are a group that, in theory,
everyone should be able to support.
They are the literal huddled masses yearning to be free,
who the Statue of Liberty has for centuries fricasseed.
But Trump is famously not a fan.
He went on about asylum at length in Thursday's debate,
and he loves to rift about it whenever he gets in front of a crowd.
The asylum program...
is a scam.
Some of the roughest people who've ever seen.
People that look like they should be fighting
for the UFC.
They read a little page given by lawyers.
"I am very fearful for my life."
(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)
"I am very worried that I will be accosted
if I'm sent back home."
"Oh, give him asylum. He's afraid!
He's afraid."
We don't love the fact that he's got tattoos on his face.
Okay. So there is a lot to unpack there.
Starting with the fact that Trump seems to think
that people with facial tattoos are just inherently scary.
Something definitively disproven by the existence of Post Malone.
He looks like a build a bear who spend too much time
at the tattoo station.
Also, as you've probably guessed,
the asylum process isn't a simple recitation
of magic words by which all manner
of fraudulent claims are let through
nor is it responsible for,
as Trump's official White House website calls it...
That is simply not true.
Historically, the biggest loophole has been
to be the parents of someone Donald Trump wishes would fuck him.
And for the record, asylum seekers are not all
tattooed UFC fighters, they're also people like Berta,
who fled Honduras after MS-13 gang members tried to force
her 12-year-old granddaughter into marriage. Berta refused.
They threatened to set her on fire,
so she and her granddaughter fled to the U.S.
They were separated, Berta was detained,
and I'll let her lawyer pick up the story from there.
EDUARDO BECKETT: Berta, my client, she's a 63-year-old grandmother
who legally entered the United States.
And she's fleeing for her life, but she did it the correct way. Why?
Because she went to the port of entry
and basically turned herself in.
It's not like she was hiding, she was trying to be smuggled
in the trunk of a car. She did it the right way.
(SPEAKS SPANISH)
That is ridiculous.
If you ask the cops for help and they responded by
throwing you into detention, you'd be absolutely furious.
You'd probably also be Black, but let's try and take this
one systemic social crisis at a time.
And Berta's story isn't even a one-off.
The Trump administration's attack on asylum has been
focused, dedicated, and deeply resourceful.
And I know that those aren't adjectives you're used to
associating with this administration,
but in this one area, they've been truly disciplined
about being truly evil.
So, tonight let's talk about our asylum system,
how it's supposed to work, and just a few of the key ways
this administration has undermined it.
Let's start with how it's supposed to work at our border.
Ideally,
an asylum seeker presents themselves to ask for protection
and an officer performs "a credible fear screening."
If there's a chance they might face danger
if they're sent back home, they're allowed to remain
in the U.S. pending a date in immigration court
which makes sense.
When a person says their life is at stake,
you wanna err on the side of believing them
while you weigh the facts of their case.
If someone says, "I'm drowning,"
your first move should be to help them out of the pool
not leave them in there while you convene a hearing
to determine whether or not they're a fish who's lying.
Now, you should know, even before Trump,
the odds of being granted asylum were not great.
With immigration advocates saying less than half
of all claims are granted.
Now, that is partly because, as we've discussed before,
many migrants don't have a lawyer
to help them navigate a very complicated process,
and it's partly because the bar to qualify for asylum is high.
You have to be able to prove
that you're being persecuted on the basis of race,
religion, nationality, membership in a social group,
or political opinion.
And there's always going to be room
for interpretation there.
What qualifies as membership in a social group,
or a political opinion?
For instance, someone being persecuted for criticizing
a drug cartel might well argue
that their criticism is political
if they live in a narco state.
But the Trump administration has told immigration judges
to apply the criteria very narrowly
as this attorney explains to a room full of asylum seekers.
(SPEAKING IN SPANISH)
Wow, I don't know what's more jarring there,
that man's pitch-black joke about getting murdered,
or the lawyer taking it at complete face value.
That's very funny, but seriously if you could die
holding documentation that you were murdered
for your religion that would actually be a big help.
So the asylum process has never been easy,
but this administration has made it absolute hell.
Their policy of family separation
caused widespread outrage.
But they have done so much more than that.
And it's worth slowing down right now
to look at three tactics that they've used in particular,
migrant protectant protocols, safe third country agreements,
and Title 42.
And I know that none of those have the harrowing ring
of family separation, but each represents
another cruel, calculated decision that has largely flown
under the radar.
And let's start with the migrant protection protocols.
Or, as they're more commonly known,
the "Remain in Mexico" program.
Very basically, this policy forces asylum seekers
to wait in Mexico for their cases to fully play out
in U.S. immigration courts rather than
admit them to safety first.
We've already done this to over 67,000 people,
many of whom wound up in make-shift camps
that have emerged at the border.
And since we also started limiting the number of people
even allowed to ask for asylum at the border each day,
in some places the migrants themselves
have had to work out a system for whose turn it was next.
REPORTER: The list is a strange thing.
Volunteers, who are migrants themselves, keep it in a notepad
in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
It determines the order in which the thousands of asylum seekers
here will be seen by U.S. officials.
No one knows exactly who started it, or when, but it's evolved
into a system to try and keep order, as the U.S. has slowed up
the processing of asylum claims.
Look, there are plenty of things you'd expect to be handwritten
in a college-ruled notebook.
Math homework? Sure.
A list of the cutest boys in homeroom? Natch.
Just an absolute shitload of cool "S's"? You know it.
What you wouldn't expect though, would be the names
of thousands of families for who this scrap
of notebook paper is their only lifeline to safety,
because how the fuck have we let that be the best system
available to them?
And conditions on the border can be dire.
In February, more than 2,500 migrants were living
in a camp in Matamoros
where there was only one toilet for every 60 people
and safe drinking water was scarce.
And even people who don't wind up in those camps
can be in real jeopardy.
Because migrants in general are targets for cartels,
who regularly kidnap and try to extract ransom money
from those that they expect of having family in the U.S.
This is done so often, there is a whole system in place for it,
as this cartel member explains.
(SPEAKING IN SPANISH)
"They end up where they end up."
He's talking about murder victims
with the same casualness most people reserve
for lost socks. And as of May, there were
over 1,000 publicly reported cases of murder, rape, torture,
kidnapping, and other violent assaults against asylum seekers
and migrants, forced by the U.S.,
completely unnecessarily, to wait in Mexico.
In fact, kidnappings are such a fact of life,
cartels will give some kidnapped migrants a code word
upon release, so if they're kidnapped again,
the keyword would indicate they'd already paid the ransom.
And it's pretty bleak when drug cartels
have a more efficient system for keeping track
of asylum seekers than the U.S. government.
And yet despite the wreckage this administration has caused,
it has trumpeted its "Remain in Mexico" program
as a great success.
In fact, Chad Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security
and undisputed Chaddiest wolf,
has touted it using a pretty weird metric.
What we're seeing is about half of these individuals
that are put in the program never show up
for their court hearings.
So individuals that are put in this program that know
they do not have a, again, a meritorious claim,
simply choose to walk away.
Okay. Real quick.
Get fucked, Chad, you human razor burn.
Because remember, these hearings
are migrants' only shot at getting to safety.
It's everything they've been waiting for
and if they miss their hearing, they lose their case.
So a person not showing up in court,
after you've forced them to wait in a dangerous area
without adequate shelter or support,
isn't proof they were trying to cheat the system,
it's proof your system is not fucking working.
And for the record, the government can make
these hearings pretty missable.
Some migrants will receive notices to appear in court
that bear no date or time,
or scheduled hearings for when the courts aren't open,
including one that was scheduled at 1 a.m.
And it can be hard to know about any changes to dates
of hearings, given that some border patrol agents,
filling out forms for migrants,
have written in "Facebook" as a street address.
All in all,
the government system is about as effective
as painting...
...on a raccoon
and then just throwing it over the wall into Mexico.
Good luck getting the instructions
and if you do,
good luck figuring out how to follow them.
So this program all but shut off the pathway
for many asylum seekers to enter the country,
but that seemingly wasn't enough because the administration
then came up with...
Basically, the U.S. managed to force...
...to sign up to this.
And it meant that we could bar migrants
from seeking asylum here
and send them to apply for it in those countries instead,
which is completely absurd.
Since, for many migrants,
those are the exact countries they're seeking asylum from.
"Oh! You're fleeing Honduras? Why not try El Salvador?
It's right next door so you can stay in touch with your family,
friends and the people who want to murder you."
And if that wasn't bad enough,
none of these three countries have robust asylum systems,
as the President of El Salvador, himself, admits.
The member of the President's inner circle said that
asylum seekers could end up staying in El Salvador.
That that could happen.
Is El Salvador prepared for that?
Well not right now.
We don't have asylum capacities.
But we can build them.
But you don't have it now?
-We don't have it now. -When we--
He said I can throw up a tent.
A tent? That's not a-- That's not asylum capacity. No.
No. No, it really isn't.
Throwing up a tent doesn't inherently give you
asylum capacity.
There are only two things throwing up a tent can give you:
shelter from the elements
and the arena for a shame-based banking crucible
whose only price
is the narrow avoidance of public failure.
And quick side note here...
Why the fuck did the new season of The Great British Bake Off
make the first showstopper challenge,
celebrity cake busts?
Because it gave us squashed Freddie Mercury,
something the baker insisted was Lupita Nyong'o and, I admit,
a photo-perfect David Bowie.
That baker deserves a poor Hollywood handshake.
The rest of you need to think about what you've done.
And forcing migrants to sit in refugee camps or sending them
to countries with no functioning asylum systems
is comfortably bad enough,
before you get to what happened earlier this year,
when the administration invoked Title 42 of the U.S. Code,
and that isn't even an immigration law.
It's a provision that gives the government broad power
to act during a public health crisis.
And the Trump administration is currently claiming that,
"Because of the pandemic,
it gives me authority to shut down the border
to virtually all migrants."
And not just that.
They're also claiming that it allows them to take
asylum seekers who've already made it into the U.S.
and expel them with no due process whatsoever.
It is a transparent attempt to exploit this pandemic
to do whatever they want with migrants.
Although, Mark Morgan,
Trump's Head of Customs and Border Protection,
has repeatedly insisted
that nothing could be further from the truth.
Title 42 has nothing to do with immigration enforcement.
I'm gonna say that again,
I've said it before, I'm gonna continue to say it.
Title 42 has nothing to do with immigration enforcement
and everything to do with public health.
Yeah, Mark. We're aware that you keep saying that this has
nothing to do with immigration.
But the thing is,
a Trump official saying his actions have nothing
to do with immigration is about as believable
as Cookie Monster saying
his actions have nothing to do with cookies.
Because of course they do.
They're the thing that you are so obsessed with
it literally makes you a monster.
And it's a little hard to take this administration citing
their deep concern about the coronavirus
even before you learn
that the CDC was apparently forced
to issue the Title 42 order, despite their own scientists
saying there was no evidence it would slow the coronavirus.
So, this clearly has nothing to do with public health at all.
And if you need any more proof, Stephen Miller,
Trump's top immigration advisor and world's tallest minion,
has apparently been trying to invoke Title 42
for immigration purposes long before COVID.
He reportedly pushed to invoke it twice last year.
Once, when an outbreak of mumps
spread through immigration detention facilities,
and again, when border patrol stations were hit with the flu.
In fact, using emergency public health powers
to curb immigration was apparently on a wish list
that Miller crafted
within the first six months of the administration.
And incidentally, the rest of that wish list
was just what looks like a hand-drawn picture
of a ripped Stephen Miller and "maybe an all-white reboot
of Hidden Figures?" circled three times.
And you can kind of see
why this appeals so much to Miller
because invoking Title 42
has basically created a shadow deportation system
that moves quickly and is accountable to no one.
And they have used this a lot.
Since March, there've been nearly 200,000 expulsions,
in which asylum seekers were sent back
without so much as a court hearing.
And the government's gone out of its way
to avoid scrutiny here. For example,
unaccompanied minors are usually kept in shelters,
where immigration attorneys can find them
and try and help them. But by citing public health concerns,
the government's instead been quietly keeping kids
in hotels supervised by private contractors.
And the rare glimpses that we've gotten of this
have been absolutely chilling.
Just watch as a civil rights attorney
tries to help the kids but gets stopped.
Can we see your badges, sir?
You can't come here. You can't be here.
ATTORNEY: Can I ask who you are?
Can I ask who you are, sir?
ABC REPORTER: Desperately trying to communicate to children
the Associated Press says they're being held by ICE
on the fourth floor of the Hampton Inn and Suites hotel
in McAllen, Texas.
ATTORNEY: If you're detained, give me your name.
MAN: Get out if you're smart. Get out.
-Who are you? Who are you? -Don't worry about who we are.
ATTORNEY: Are you police? Are you police?
MAN: Don't worry about who we are.
Get out. Get out! Get out now!
What the fuck is happening there?!
Although, I will say I'm actually curious
if after that interaction, those men felt
they successfully hidden the government's child prison.
"Whew! That was a close one. I got a bit worried
when he asked, 'Who are you?' But then, Randy said,
'Don't worry who we are.' Nice save there, Randy.
That's the last time anyone asks us questions
about this mysteriously off-limits hotel floor
packed with terrified children."
Now incidentally, our lawyers are insisting
that I have to clarify that that Hampton Inn said
they had made those bookings without knowing
what they'd be used for and have canceled their business.
Because the entity you're definitely angriest at right now
is the Hampton fucking Inn.
And when you put all of this together,
this administration has effectively taken
an asylum system that was already imperfect
and shattered it. And the thing is,
they're now trying to make this damage permanent
because along with extending Title 42 indefinitely,
they've drafted new regulations that would among other things...
...which have to be in English and with all supporting evidence
within just 15 days of their first court hearing,
and that is regardless of whether or not they have a lawyer.
The Trump administration's attack on this system
has just been relentless,
and there are lives at stake here.
Remember Berta, who came here
to protect her 12-year-old granddaughter?
Just watch her lawyer update her on the outcome of her case.
(SPEAKING SPANISH)
Yeah. The government,
acting on our behalf, deported Berta back to Honduras,
where you should know she once again fled
and is currently living in limbo in Mexico.
And the tragic thing is
in some ways, she's actually luckier
than many asylum seekers like her.
She, at least, had a lawyer, and her case was heard.
But for some many, especially now,
there is just no telling if or when
they'll even get that far. And if you're wondering,
"Well, what can we do about this?"
There is actually one thing that you can do.
You can vote for Joe Biden.
And I know that sounds simplistic,
especially considering that our immigration policy
has been pretty shitty under Democratic administrations, too,
like the one Joe Biden was in for eight years.
And I am not saying that he is the perfect candidate.
Far from it.
I personally find his opposition to Medicare for all
utterly ridiculous, especially in the middle of a pandemic.
Also, I think aviator glasses should only be worn
by hot pilots, cute babies, and cute baby pilots.
But the fact is
a lot of our immigration policy is set solely
by the executive branch and you should know
Biden has explicitly promised
to end the "Remain in Mexico" policy
and restore asylum eligibility for domestic violence survivors
and the victims of gang persecution.
And those could be life-saving changes.
One immigration attorney that we spoke with has said...
And obviously, Biden will have to do a lot more,
and we will have to hold him to the promises he's made,
but we can't begin to fix the damage done
by this administration until we replace
the administration itself.
If we even want a shot at change,
it is on us to vote and then advocate
like lives depend on it.
'Cause the fact is we badly need an asylum system that works.
And that is ideally one based on compassion,
due process, and of course, ultimately,
cannibalism by a giant, green statue.