McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Dozens of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday called on the Biden administration to stop conducting credible fear interviews with asylum-seekers in U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary processing facilities.
CBP facilities are designed for quick processing of asylum-seekers and not properly equipped, nor allow migrants enough time to prepare their credible fear arguments, the 64 lawmakers said in a joint letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“We write today to urge you to immediately halt the practice of subjecting individuals to fear screenings while in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. Requiring asylum seekers to undergo their Credible Fear Interviews (CFI) while in CBP custody and articulate their traumatic experiences within as little as one day of arrival into the U.S. is inherently problematic because of the recency of the trauma many are fleeing and the carceral nature of CBP custody. Compounding this new problematic practice is the difficulty asylum seekers face of trying to figure out how to navigate the United States’ very complicated asylum law, overwhelmingly without the benefit of counsel,” they wrote.
In April, prior to the lifting of Title 42 expulsions, DHS and DOJ began allowing CBP officers to conduct credible fear interviews as a way to expedite the screening process at the Southwest border.
As upwards of 10,000 asylum-seeking migrants crossed the border from Mexico into the United States, DHS officials said the change in policy would help officers to more quickly earmark those who qualify to stay in the United States, and those who need to be turned back.
But the lawmakers say it infringes upon human rights and due process.
“Due process is a right and value enshrined in our nation’s history. Affording people fair adjudication — including adequate time to obtain evidence, prepare one’s case, and obtain and work with counsel — is particularly key for individuals fleeing life-threatening harm or torture. Hence, we call on your departments to immediately end the policy of conducting fear screenings in CBP custody. Such a process has consistently failed to adhere to basic principles of fairness, humane treatment of those fleeing persecution or torture, and compliance with due process obligations,” they wrote.
When a migrant is in a CBP facility they are not allowed to visit with migrant advocates or lawyers or anyone. That is why migrant advocates prefer credible fear interviews to be conducted at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, which will allow third parties to come and counsel the asylum-seekers and help them to prepare their immigration claims.
“Navigating U.S. laws and agencies in a foreign language and while detained would prove dizzying for most asylum seekers. Undergoing fear screenings in CBP custody would therefore present insurmountable challenges even if every asylum seeker had an attorney by their side. And yet in CBP custody today, asylum seekers face severely obstructed access to counsel,” they wrote.
In 2022, the Biden administration began allowing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers from DHS to make final decisions in asylum cases, instead of immigration judges. However, this rule was suspended when Title 42 was lifted in order to free up asylum officer resources.
A report released last month by the Migration Policy Institute suggested reverting back to allowing USCIS officers to make final decisions in asylum cases would help to reduce the 2.4 million backlogged U.S. immigration cases.
The lawmakers who signed the letter on Tuesday included the following senators and congressional representatives from border and non-border states: U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, of New Jersey; Alex Padilla, of California; Cory Booker, of New Jersey; Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut; Ben Cardin, of Maryland; Martin Heinrich, of New Mexico; Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii; Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, of Oregon; Patty Murray, of Washington; and Peter Welch, of Vermont, and U.S. Reps. Nanette Barragán, Judy Chu, J. Lou Correa, Robert Garcia, Jimmy Gomez, Salud Carbajal, Tony Cárdenas, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu, Sara Jacobs, Zoe Lofgren, Grace Napolitano, Katie Porter, Linda Sánchez, Adam Schiff, and Juan Vargas, of California; Adriano Espaillat, Jamaal Bowman, Yvette Clarke, Daniel Goldman, Grace Meng, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ritchie Torres, and Nydia Velázquez, of New York; Suzanne Bonamici and Andrea Salinas, of Oregon; André Carson, of Indiana; Greg Casar, Joaquin Castro, Jasmine Crocket, Veronica Escobar, and Sylvia Garcia, of Texas; Kathy Castor, Maxwell Frost, and Frederica Wilson, of Florida; Danny Davis, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Mike Quigley, Delia Ramirez, and Janice Schakowsky, of Illinois; Dwight Evans, of Pennsylvania; Raúl Grijalva, of Arizona; Pramila Jayapal, of Washington; Henry Johnson, of Georgia; James McGovern, of Massachusetts; Eleanor Norton, of Washington, D.C.; Frank Pallon, of New Jersey; Chellie Pingree, of Maine; Mark Pocan. of Wisconsin; Jamie Raskin, and David Trone, of Maryland; Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan;