US President Donald Trump’s sweeping plans for an immigration clamp down, as made public on Wednesday, are unlikely to dramatically affect the asylum bid of Singaporean teenage dissident Amos Yee, his lawyer said, as the blogger’s stint in a US jail entered its 40th day.
“It’s too early to tell what the impact would be of the president’s plans for refugees,” Sandra Grossman, the US-based pro-bono lawyer representing the 18-year-old, told This Week in Asia.
Draft executive orders circulating on Wednesday showed Trump would “drastically cut the amount of Syrian refugees that the United States will submit,” Grossman said.
“It seems he will also curtail, if not temporarily stop, the issuance of visas to seven predominantly Muslim countries. Amos is not a refugee. He is a prospective ‘asylee’ because he is already in the US, so he should not be affected by these changes,” she added.
Yee, who is being held in a detention facility outside Chicago, was detained at the O’ Hare International Airport on December 16 after telling immigration officials he was seeking asylum. He had entered the country with a tourist visa.
Yee – jailed twice in Singapore for online posts denigrating religion and the country’s late founding leader Lee Kuan Yew – is scheduled to appear before an immigration judge on January 30. Grossman said the teenager’s asylum claim would be submitted at the hearing.
‘It’s overly rude’: Singaporean blogger Amos Yee regrets controversial posts as he seeks asylum in US
“We have faith in the continuing independence of judges from any political considerations and goals that the administration may have,” she said.
Draft executive orders leaked to multiple US outlets on Wednesday detailed plans by the Trump administration for an expansion of detention facilities holding asylum seekers and others awaiting immigration hearings. The orders also showed plans to restrict immigration from some Muslim-majority nations.
The White House did not publicly unveil these plans, but Trump announced late on Wednesday that he would build a wall along the Mexican border – a centrepiece of his campaign platform – via executive order.
“Despite the Trump administration’s focus on enforcement and detaining asylum seekers, the US has an obligation to protect asylum seekers, such as Amos, fleeing to our borders,” Grossman said.
“The latest directives, by calling for increased detention of asylum seekers, do much to betray American’s proud tradition of welcoming those who are fleeing persecution by curtailing fundamental due processes,” she added.
Yee, who has thousands of online followers on multiple social media platforms, is a divisive figure in Singapore. Some view him as an enfant terrible challenging the country’s tight lid on dissent; others regard him as little more than an attention seeker.
A post on his Facebook page on Sunday lamented his prolonged detention at the McHenry County Jail. This Week in Asia could not independently confirm if Yee was behind it, or how he wrote it while in jail.
“I just got a letter that said that my court date (not release day) is scheduled for 30th January,” the post said.
“That means I will literally have spent a total of 50 days in an American jail. That is longer than anything that the Singaporean government has sentenced me for (for criticising religion and the government)...And the worst part is nobody really knows these kinds of awful immigration policies exist in America,” it read.
The post drew mixed reactions.
Some showed support for the teenager.
“Your day is almost here. You are standing up for something that is precious: the right to say what you think without fear,” wrote Facebook user Brenan Nierman.
Grossman, the Maryland-based lawyer, has previously said Yee was seeking asylum in the US because he feared he would face persecution in Singapore for his political views.
Yee was first jailed for four weeks in July 2015 for wounding religious feelings in an expletive-laden YouTube video comparing Singapore’s late political patriarch Lee with Jesus and for posting an obscene image featuring the leader and Margaret Thatcher, the late former British Prime Minister. The video, titled “Lee Kuan Yew is finally dead!” was uploaded days after Lee’s death at age 91 on March 23 last year, sparking widespread public anger.
In September last year, a court sentenced him to six weeks imprisonment for similar offences of wounding religious feelings in online comments criticising Christianity and Islam.
Rights groups say Yee’s convictions showcase Singapore’s overly tough laws to curb dissent, but the ruling People’s Action Party has long defended limits on freedom of speech to ensure social stability in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.