On August 31, 2020, a federal court stopped a Trump Administration program that was quietly started in the spring of 2019 where under-trained Border Patrol Agents were conducting “credible fear interviews” of asylum seekers. These interviews are used in the asylum process to help determine if a person meets the first, critical part to proving their asylum case. The point of this sort of interview and the determination from the agent is to see if the individual has a legitimate fear of returning to their country of origin as a result of the problems, they are claiming in their asylum cases. These agents do not decide if the asylum claim is legitimate, only if the fear claimed by the asylum seekers is genuine.
Credible Fear interviews are very complex because they agent must evaluate the individual history of the asylum seeker against current and recent changes in immigration law as well as applicable agency decisions, court decisions and international law. Not only were these Border Patrol agents not being educated sufficiently to able to conduct these sensitive and difficult interviews, but they were also unable to meet the legal requirement of the interviews being conducted in a non-adversarial manner.
By their very nature, all interactions with the Border Patrol are adversarial given that their role is that of a law enforcement officer, not a bureaucrat processing documents. By using Border Patrol agents, it appears that the intent of the administration has been to make swift decisions to deny and stop an asylum process before it actually gets started. Ending this unfair and legally questionable interview procedure is a significant victory for asylum seekers.
Another small victory for immigrants came as a result of a class action lawsuit filed on July 22nd against USCIS over the extended delays in granting approvals and issuing work authorizations (EADs). As of the end of August, there were roughly 45,000 requests waiting for approvals and cards to be provided. An agreement was reached between the government and the plaintiffs of the lawsuit and a federal court in Ohio ordered USCIS to produce the cards within the promised timeframe. The agreement also provided a mechanism to allow workers to work legally until the EAD cards can be produced and sent to workers.
Both of these updates represent great news for immigrant workers and asylum seekers, but it is another reminder that this administration is finding new and unfair ways to create obstacles for those with genuine need for help from the US government as well as those seeking or already having legal status in the US.