Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Central American migrants wait in line at the El Chaparral border crossing before being transported to a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 22, 2019. (Photo: Eduardo Jaramillo Castro/AFP/Getty Images)

'Unprecedented Drop' in Approved Asylum Cases Result of 'Secret' Trump Policies, Rights Group Says

At one detention center, only 10 percent of asylum-seekers have been allowed to bring their case before an immigration judge since July—down from 97 percent.

Julia Conley

Immigrant rights attorneys are raising concerns that the Trump administration is quietly attempting to abolish the U.S. asylum system by making it more difficult for refugees to convince officials that they face persecution or violence in their home countries.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that since July, the percentage of refugees at the country's largest immigrant family detention center who have passed their "credible fear" interviews has plummeted from 97 percent to just 10 percent.

"What we're seeing in the credible fear process is one part of a systemic effort by this administration to end asylum."
—Elora Mukherjee, Columbia University Immigrants' Rights Clinic

The trend represents an "unprecedented drop" in approved asylum claims at South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, The Guardian reported, suggesting a major shift in how the U.S. government now views the internationally-recognized right to seek asylum.

Asylum-seekers who receive approval after their credible fear screenings are then able to appear before an immigration judge for their asylum hearings; those who do not can be deported within days.

Elora Mukherjee, an attorney at Columbia University's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, said the change seems to be the result of "secret policies and procedures that have not been made public."

"This administration is trying to end asylum in the United States," Mukherjee told The Guardian. "What we're seeing in the credible fear process is one part of a systemic effort by this administration to end asylum."

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the Immigrants' Rights Clinic in September said they were interviewed multiple times about traumatic events that forced them to flee their home countries—a pattern which went against standard protocol for credible fear screenings. Such changes to the asylum process would have been made illegally without the approval of Congress, The Guardian reported.

Joel Hernàndez of the Refugee Trauma Initiative tweeted that significant changes to the asylum process amounts to "non-transparent rights denial."

Since 1996, asylum-seekers have undergone a credible fear interview given by asylum officers.

In September, the Los Angeles Times reported that President Donald Trump had unveiled a pilot program at family detention centers, under which credible fear interviews would be conducted by Border Patrol agents rather than asylum officers who are "trained and geared toward refugee protection."

Buzzfeed News reported last week on another change to the asylum process: In another pilot program unveiled in recent weeks, Mexicans applying for asylum have only 48 hours to prepare their immigration cases, a change which expedites the time in which they can be deported.

"The short time frame and the limited ability to communicate with counsel ensures that less Mexican asylum-seekers will pass the initial credible fear interview," Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute told Buzzfeed. "It's another brick in the virtual wall they are creating to block asylum-seekers from entering the U.S."

The Guardian's report came a day after Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) obtained a manifesto by a former asylum officer in which the anonymous writer condemned Trump's approach to the asylum process.

The former officer wrote that the president's overhaul of the system—including his "Remain in Mexico" policy under which asylum-seekers are deported to Mexico to await their immigration hearings; attempts to deport refugees to Honduras; and a proposal to charge them $50 to apply for asylum—are "clearly designed to further this administration's racist agenda of keeping Hispanic and Latino populations from entering the United States."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Big Business Lobby Endorses Permitting Overhaul as Manchin Tries to Salvage Dirty Deal

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful corporate group allied with fossil fuel interests, called Manchin's bill "thoughtful" as environmentalists warn it would further damage the planet.

Jake Johnson ·

Biden's Student Debt Relief to Cost a Fraction of US Giveaways to the Megarich and Pentagon

"In contrast to President Trump and Republicans who gave giant corporations $2 trillion in tax breaks, President Biden delivered transformative middle-class relief," said two senators.

Jessica Corbett ·

'Climate Change Is the Asteroid,' Say Critics of NASA Earth Defense Mission

"The actual clear and present danger to humanity is of course Earth breakdown from burning fossil fuels," said one NASA climate scientist.

Brett Wilkins ·

After Nearly a Decade in Exile, Snowden Granted Russian Citizenship

While the whistleblower said "a little stability" would benefit his family, one digital rights advocate noted that "if the Biden administration dropped the charges against Snowden, Putin wouldn't be able to use him for a PR stunt."

Jessica Corbett ·

Peace Group Urges US and China to Halt 'Blatantly Provocative' Military Maneuvers

The co-chairs of the Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy called on American and Chinese leaders to "immediately take unilateral and bilateral steps to reduce the risk of an accidental or unintended clash."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo