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February 09, 2018

Credible Fear: A Screening Mechanism in Expedited Removal

In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, creating an expedited removal process in which immigration officers are able to order the deportation of certain individuals charged with inadmissibility under the Immigration and Nationality Act. One of the components of this expedited removal process, the credible fear screening process, ensures that the United States did not summarily deport bona fide asylum seekers, and that they had an opportunity to apply for asylum and have their eligibility assessed by an immigration court.

The Trump Administration, however, has begun mislabeling the screening process as a “loophole” that is being used by asylum seekers to come into the United States. This damaging rhetoric is being used to legitimize changes to U.S. immigration laws  that would block families, individuals, and children who have fled persecution from applying for asylum in the United States.

This fact sheet outlines the credible fear process, as well as the effective security and anti-fraud measures that are already in place.

What is the Credible Fear Process?

Since expedited removal cannot, by law, be applied to certain individuals—including U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, refugees, or asylum seekers—the credible fear process was created to prevent those who may be eligible for asylum from being wrongfully removed.

When a person subjected to expedited removal (a summary removal process) indicates an intention to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution and/or torture, the immigration officer must refer him or her for a “credible fear interview” by a trained asylum officer within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The asylum officer determines whether a “significant possibility” exists—“taking into account the credibility of the statements made by the alien in support of the alien's claim and such other facts as are known to the officer”—that the person will be able to demonstrate eligibility for asylum.

The credible fear interview is not meant to require the same standard as a full asylum hearing. Asylum seekers are generally held in U.S. immigration detention facilities during this screening process, and screenings are conducted days after long and traumatizing journeys to the United States.

If the individual receives a positive result from the credible fear interview, he or she will be referred to regular removal proceedings—a process under section 240 of the Immigration and Nationality Act—and can then present an asylum claim before an immigration judge.

If an asylum seeker is determined to not meet the credible fear screening standard, he or she can be deported under expedited removal without being allowed to apply for asylum and present their case before an immigration judge.

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