By Anna Hopkins
Published April 17, 2019
John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general to the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, has defended Attorney General William Barr's authority to overrule immigration judges in his recent decision regarding asylum seekers.
Barr ruled on Tuesday that asylum seekers coming to the United States will no longer have a chance to be released from custody on bail, and will remain in detention centers until hearings to determine the legitimacy of their claims. Yoo, now a law professor at UC-Berkeley, argued during an appearance on "The Daily Briefing With Dana Perino" on Wednesday that Barr's ruling was "correct on the merits."
"I think the attorney general's critics are overblowing what this is," Yoo said. "This is not part of some grand scheme against immigrants coming into the United States. It's a very narrow thing the attorney general has done. He has the power to overrule immigration judges. Immigration judges have been making mistakes -- they've been allowing bail to be granted to people seeking asylum who are caught past the border."
He went on to discuss the difference between migrants arriving at the border to seek asylum, and those attempting to enter and remain as citizens.
"It may not actually apply to that many people," he continued. "I'd be very surprised to see a court overturn it."
Those fleeing areas of Central America, Yoo said, often don't see their asylum claims approved because they don't meet the legal threshold to qualify under United States law.
"Asylum seekers have to show what they call a well-founded fear of persecution back in their home countries," he said. "The problem for all these people coming from Central America, they're fleeing for economic reasons. They're not fleeing because the government is persecuting them."
Apart from economic purposes, many people are fleeing Central America due to gang violence, which Yoo said still isn't likely to secure asylum status. U.S. courts typically recognize such activity as "private violence," and only grant asylum to those being persecuted by the government, such as religious minorities or political dissidents.
"Central American migrants don't fit in that category," Yoo continued. "That's why I think Attorney General Barr is correct."
A number of prominent figures have come to Barr's defense, including Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who told "America's Newsroom" hosts on Wednesday that keeping asylum seekers in custody until their hearings is "what has to be done."