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April 29, 2019

Allowing CBP to Conduct Credible Fear Interviews Undermines Safeguards to Protect Refugees

In 1996, Congress created an expedited removal process in which immigration officers may order the deportation of certain noncitizens charged as inadmissible without a full hearing. One component of this expedited removal process, the credible fear screening, is supposed to ensure that the United States does not summarily deport bona fide asylum seekers and that they have an opportunity to have their eligibility assessed by an immigration court. Immigration officers who conduct initial questioning of noncitizens must refer individuals who request asylum or indicate a fear of return for a credible fear interview with a trained asylum officer.

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But Trump Administration officials have repeatedly complained about the rate at which asylum officers from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) determine that asylum seekers meet the credible fear legal standard. White House senior advisor Stephen Miller is reported to have demanded that USCIS tighten, i.e. lower, the pass rate. The administration is reportedly considering a pilot program in which border officers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), including Border Patrol, would conduct credible fear interviews, instead of trained USCIS asylum officers. Stephen Miller is reported to have argued that these interviews should be conducted by CBP agents because they will be “tougher” than USCIS asylum officers and will determine that fewer asylum seekers meet the credible fear standard.

Human Rights First urges the Trump Administration to abandon these plans, because:

  • Assigning CBP to carry out these interviews runs afoul of federal regulations, which mandate that credible fear screenings fall under the jurisdiction of asylum experts at USCIS.
  • CBP is tasked with immigration enforcement; its officers are not suited to carrying out sensitive, legally complex, non-adversarial screenings of often traumatized asylum seekers.
  • Successive U.S. administrations deliberately separated refugee protection from immigration enforcement to ensure efficient, uniform and fair adjudication of asylum cases.
  • CBP officers already often fail to even properly question and refer asylum seekers for fear screenings.

Authorizing CBP to conduct crucial fear screenings would increase the likelihood that refugees at risk of persecution are summarily deported to their home countries without an opportunity to apply for asylum. Just as a hospital would not assign security guards to triage incoming patients in the emergency ward, CBP border officers should not make life-or-death decisions about refugees seeking protection at the border.

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