The End of Asylum

By Andrew I. Schoenholtz, Jaya Ramji-Nogales, and Philip G. Schrag

"[A]n essential read for all who wish to reflect on our country’s human rights values."
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The Trump administration's war on asylum and what Congress and the Biden administration can do about it

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign centered around immigration issues such as his promise to build a border wall separating the US and Mexico. While he never built a physical wall, he did erect a legal one. Over the past three years, the Trump administration has put forth regulations, policies, and practices all designed to end opportunities for asylum seekers. If left unchecked, these policies will effectually lead to the end of asylum, turning the United States—once a global leader in refugee aid—into a country with one of the most restrictive asylum systems.

In The End of Asylum, three experts in immigration law offer a comprehensive examination of the rise and demise of the US asylum system. Beginning with the Refugee Act of 1980, they describe how Congress adopted a definition of refugee based on the UN Refugee Convention and prescribed equitable and transparent procedures for a uniform asylum process. The authors then chart the evolution of this process, showing how Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses tweaked the asylum system but maintained it as a means of protecting victims of persecution—until the Trump administration. By expanding his executive reach, twisting obscure provisions in the law, undermining past precedents, and creating additional obstacles for asylum seekers, Trump’s policies have effectively ended asylum. The book concludes with a roadmap and a call to action for the Biden administration and Congress to repair and reform the US asylum system.

This eye-opening work reveals the extent to which the Trump administration has dismantled fundamental American ideals of freedom from persecution and shows us what we can do about it.

Table of Contents


1. The Refugee Act of 1980

2. From Clinton to Obama

3. The Trump Administration: Substantive Cutbacks and Procedural Obstacles

4. The Trump Administration: Sealing the Border

5. The End of Asylum

6. The Biden Administration and A New Beginning


"The US asylum system has long served as a beacon of liberty for those fleeing persecution in their homelands– and for decades, enjoyed bipartisan support. As we dig out from the rubble of the Trump administration, this book is required reading to understand how his administration wrecked America’s commitment to humanitarian protection. From the genesis of the asylum process to its evolution over time, Schoenholtz, Ramji-Nogales, and Schrag meticulously detail how the administration weaponized regulations, decisions, and policies to undermine this vital program. More importantly, the authors deliver comprehensive guidance for rebuilding an asylum system that again upholds American ideals and the US commitment to protect refugees from terrible harm."—Stacey Abrams, Founder of Fair Fight Action and Fair Count

"The End of Asylum is an urgently-needed book, and a genuine public service: a meticulous account of how the Trump Administration dismantled the country's humanitarian protections for asylum-seekers and refugees. A clarifying read for anyone who wants to understand the full scope of the damage wrought by President Trump, this book offers a step-by-step tour of the toll for vulnerable people at the southern border and beyond. If the Trump Administration's layered attacks on asylum-seekers were convoluted and often legally-sloppy, Schoenholtz, Ramji-Nogales, and Schrag are the opposite: clear, cogent, trust-worthy guides through a bureaucratic disaster-scape. The authors remind us of why refugee protections exist in the first place, tracing their origins back to moral failures during the Holocaust for which the US, and much of Europe, sought to atone. They also train our eyes towards the future, to assess how vital humanitarian protections can be restored, or even expanded, by a new Administration–a necessary spark of hope for the tempest-tossed."—Sarah Stillman, staff writer for The New Yorker and director of the Global Migration Program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

"Concise and comprehensive, The End of Asylum recounts the relentless, and largely successful, efforts of the Trump administration to stop refugees and asylum-seekers from receiving protection in the US. The Biden administration should take careful note of the authors' smart and practical proposals for restoring America's traditional welcome to those seeking safety from persecution."—T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees and director, Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School

"This book is a comprehensive, deeply insightful accounting of the deconstruction of the US asylum system under the Trump administration. The authors combine scholarly history with a gritty, real-time analysis of current events, narrating the assault on asylum with a perfect blend of legal precision and conversational tone. For asylum expert and novice alike, this book is outstanding reading."—David L. Neal, former chair, Board of Immigration Appeals and Former Chief Immigration Judge, US Department of Justice

"Read this book! It's a clear, concise, and devastating indictment of the criminal damage done–viciously, vindictively–to the asylum and refugee protection regime by the Trump administration. And read it for what the President and Congress can and should do to remedy the injustice–take back the reins and legislate a fair and equitable asylum process."—Guy S. Goodwin-Gill, professor of law, University of New South Wales (UNSW), Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and emeritus fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

"The Trump administration unleashed a blitzkrieg against the US asylum system, a comprehensive assault as cruel as it was effective. The authors catalogue the changes that have, taken together, inflicted profound suffering on people seeking safety and obliterated the system of protection that Congress forty years ago sought to create. Most importantly, this timely and essential book reminds us why America pledged to protect refugees in the first place and details the practical steps a new administration must take to live up to that promise."—Elisa Massimino, former president and CEO of Human Rights First and senior fellow, Center for American Progress

"This important and timely book painstakingly details the Trump administration’s dismantling of the US asylum system. Its comprehensive review and analysis will not only serve as an important historical record, but should be required reading for anyone seeking to undo the damage wrought in the last four years."—Natalie Nanasi, Dedman School of Law, Southern Methodist University

"[The End of Asylum's] wide accessibility makes it an invaluable resource for the general public as well as for researchers and students who wish to have an overview of the immigration-related regulations, laws and policies adopted under the Trump presidency."—LSE Review of Books

"[A]n essential read for all who wish to reflect on our country’s human rights values."—LA Review of Books

"In The End of Asylum, legal scholars and asylum experts Andrew I. Schoenholtz, Jaya Ramji-Nogales, and Philip G. Schrag present a brisk, accessible narrative of the country's tenuous system of protection for asylum seekers and refugees."—ACLU Magazine, 9/12/2021

"In six engaging and deeply informed chapters, The End of Asylum takes us through the myriad ways Trump’s administration ... virtually annihilated the apparatus with which asylum seekers are processed. The evidence presented is overwhelming and compelling."—H-Diplo

"The End of Asylum is an essential read for anyone devoted to the study of asylum."—Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Andrew I. Schoenholtz is a professor from practice at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he is the codirector of the asylum clinic, the Center for Applied Legal Studies. He is also the director of the Human Rights Institute and the Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. He is the former deputy director of the US Commission on Immigration Reform. His publications focus especially on the Refugee Convention and the US asylum system.

Jaya Ramji-Nogales is the associate dean for academic affairs and I. Herman Stern Research Professor at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where she teaches refugee law and policy and created, along with her students, the Temple Law Asylum Project. In addition to two books presenting empirical studies of the US asylum system coauthored with Schoenholtz and Schrag, she has published extensively on international refugee law and global migration law.

Philip G. Schrag is the Delaney Family Professor of Public Interest Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he teaches professional responsibility as well as codirecting the asylum clinic. He is the author of sixteen previous books and dozens of articles on asylum adjudication, legal ethics, nuclear arms control, consumer protection, legal education, and other topics of public law. During the Carter administration he was the deputy general counsel of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

160 pp., 4.50 x 7.25

ISBN: 978-1-64712-107-5
May 2021

160 pp., 4.50 x 7.25

May 2021

160 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-64712-108-2
May 2021

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