The myth that asylum laws were once more equitable and humanitarian is belied by the reality of the system’s racist origins. This Essay explains that the U.S. asylum system, like much of the U.S. immigration system, was designed to disadvantage people of color. Indeed, although former President Trump’s reference to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “shithole countries” while advocating for immigration from “countries like Norway” exacerbated systemic challenges, racism has been deeply ingrained in the U.S. asylum system since its inception. Not only do U.S. laws and policies have a disparate impact on black asylum seekers but, when placed in their historical context, one would be hard pressed to argue that these laws are neutral. The pervasive foreign policy and national security concerns continually invoked by the U.S. government to justify this discrimination ring hollow in light of this injustice. This Essay posits that the first step towards reform is simply understanding the problem. Without an acknowledgement of this troubling history, reform will remain elusive. And, ultimately, reform is the next critical step.

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