FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 10, 2023
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Washington – The #WelcomeWithDignity campaign issued the following response to reports that the Biden administration is planning to expand its use of rushed Credible Fear Interviews of people seeking asylum while they are in Customs and Border Protection custody.
In their report, “Fast, Not Fair,” First Focus on Children and the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights outline how these processes are devastating to children. The report authors joined Dr. Marcia Griffin in a webinar, recorded for the media here.
“Conducting fast-track expedited removal fear screenings in CBP custody will condemn countless asylum seekers to deportation to persecution and torture,” said Rebecca Gendelman, Senior Research and Policy Counsel at Human Rights First and lead author of Human Rights First’s 2022 report on expedited removal. “The Biden administration rightly ended similar Trump-era programs that conducted fear screenings in CBP custody and had devastating consequences, resulting in drastically higher rates of denials and expedited deportation. Conducting expedited asylum screenings in CBP custody – where asylum seekers have long suffered abuse, medical neglect, inadequate access to food and water, and have little to no access to counsel – will exacerbate the due process nightmare of expedited removal and lead to deadly consequences. Human Rights First calls on the administration to fulfill its commitment to consult and plan with legal service providers and relevant stakeholders to develop policies that ensure meaningful access to asylum and due process rather than implementing rights-violating policies known to endanger refugees.”
“Trauma impacts a survivor’s ability to present an asylum claim effectively, especially if they are doing so on their own. Survivors of gender-based violence need access to counsel, a trauma-informed screening process, and sufficient time to properly explain their claims for asylum,” said Charlotte Gillingham, Litigation Counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center. “An expedited process that rushes survivors through the system is unacceptable. By prioritizing excessive speed over humanity and due process, the administration is once again jeopardizing a survivor’s chance at safety. We can and must balance efficiency with fairness. To ensure survivors have equal access to justice and are treated fairly in their pursuit of asylum, the administration must apply trauma-informed solutions that prioritize immigrant survivors’ legal right to seek safety.”
“Due process should never be sacrificed in the name of speed,” said Sunil Varghese, Policy Director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “Most CBP facilities don’t have confidential spaces for attorney consultation, USCIS staff capacity will be strained, and asylum seekers with valid claims will be sent back into danger. Instead of trying to quickly expel migrants seeking protection, the Biden administration should invest in strengthening and expanding humanitarian protections.”
“Everyone seeking asylum in the U.S. deserves a full and fair opportunity to be heard. The Biden Administration’s plans to expand expedited asylum screenings at the border would deny this right by requiring adults and families, including children, to make their asylum claims within days of arriving at the border and while they are detained in jails,” said Jane Liu, Director of Policy and Litigation at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. “No one, especially families and children, should be forced to stay in jails known to inflict long-lasting harm to their health and wellbeing nor should they be subjected to expedited processes that inherently lack the time and care everyone, but especially children, need to make their claims for protection. Children in families are children, and our immigration system should treat them as children. The government’s plan to fast-track asylum cases while holding families in jails completely fails to account for the specific needs and vulnerabilities of children. We urge the Biden Administration to focus its efforts on welcoming asylum seekers safely and efficiently and dedicating resources towards building a system that ensures that all children are truly able to seek the protection they need.”
“The Biden administration continues to recycle cruel Trump policies designed to rush asylum seekers through our immigration system with little to no oversight, resulting in the forced return of these individuals to the very places they sought to escape. It is no secret that expedited removal has traditionally undercut the ability of families and individuals fleeing harm to have a fair chance at seeking asylum in the U.S. Just last year, asylum seekers documented a variety of disturbing practices during their asylum screening interviews, including interviews being scheduled without their attorney being notified; interviews proceeding without proper interpretation, among other due process concerns,” said Jennifer Babaie, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. “Instead of detaining asylum seekers and setting them up for failure, President Biden should focus on rebuilding our asylum processing system to allow for equitable access to protection at our southern border.”
“Instead of implementing innovative border policies that address human safety and wellbeing, the Biden administration is yet again planning to revive another Trump policy designed to block asylum at the border,” said Ari Sawyer, US border researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We have seen this policy before, and we know it will almost certainly mean returning asylum seekers to persecution, torture, and even death. The stakes are high. We deserve more than plagiarism at the border. We urge Biden to create safe pathways to immigrate, remove Border Patrol from migrant processing and instead create dignified jobs at the border for professionals with trauma-informed training, invest in welcome centers and the experts already engaged in humane, dignified border reception, and end deadly deterrence policies.”
“HIAS supports efforts to increase access to legal representation for asylum seekers,” said Vanessa Dojaquez-Torres, Policy Counsel for HIAS. “However, reports that rapid credible fear interviews will be conducted in CBP facilities at the U.S. southern border is cause for concern. While increasing access sounds like a positive step, limitations on local resources and capacity will ultimately decide whether these efforts provide meaningful protections for asylum seekers.”
“I witnessed firsthand the last time Credible Fear Interviews were conducted inside of CBP facilities during the Trump Administration. While the Trump administration claimed to provide legal counsel to asylum seekers in their CFIs, in reality attorneys were often unable to provide more than 5 minutes of rushed preparation on a phone line without any privacy from CBP guards. We were not allowed inside the facilities, and migrants often sobbed and pleaded for more time to prepare for their interviews,” said Priscilla Orta, Supervising Attorney of Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon. “When the Biden administration starts taking their policies from the last President, we can only assume that they will also take their guidance on what access to counsel looks like, too. L4GG urges the administration to do better, and are prepared to fight back should they choose to inflict more harm on vulnerable people fleeing persecution in their home countries.”
“It is concerning to hear that once again the Biden administration has reverted to Trump-era policies. We have seen how the implementation of rushed asylum interviews by CBP have previously harmed people seeking asylum. This policy will send people seeking safety back to the very countries they have been trying to flee from,” said Nejra Sumic, National Field Manager for National Partnership for New Americans. “We will continue to hold the Biden administration accountable and urge them to implement policies that respect the humanity and dignity of all displaced people seeking welcome.”
“Though the details of this plan remain unclear, we know that a plan like this will rush the critical, initial steps of the asylum process at the expense of meaningful access to counsel and due process,” said Laura St. John, Legal Director at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. “It is simply not possible for arriving asylum seekers to receive comprehensive legal orientations and be prepared for an initial credible fear interview, the first step in seeking asylum, within days of their arrival to the United States.”
“Reinstating rapid asylum processing that requires vulnerable migrants to remain in deeply inadequate and inhumane conditions in Border Patrol custody while they attempt to pursue asylum claims is a mistake, pure and simple. The policy is strikingly similar to programs implemented during the Trump administration by Stephen Miller, a man who devastated asylum protections in the interest of xenophobia,” said Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy at Church World Service. “At a time when the world looks to the United States for leadership in protecting the vulnerable, reinstating these inhumane practices would show that this country is more interested in optics than common decency. Limiting due process is unjust, restricting asylum is cruel, betraying our nation’s long history of welcome flies in the face of all we claim to be. President Biden needs to pause, take stock of what he wants his presidency to be defined by, and correct our course so that our northern star is based on compassion and not fear.”
“History is repeating itself, with the Biden administration once again resurrecting a dangerous Trump policy designed to shut the door on people seeking refuge,” said Kate Jastram, Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies. “By rushing people through their asylum screenings, while keeping them detained in border holding cells, the government will deprive asylum seekers of a meaningful opportunity to prepare their claims and consult with an attorney. In practice, this will result in refugees being wrongfully denied protection and deported to countries where they face persecution, torture, and even death. Our leaders should instead put fairness before speed and human lives before political optics. It is past time for the administration to establish a fair and humane process to welcome people seeking safety at our nation’s doorstep.”
“The emphasis must be on the accuracy of the evaluation of asylum claims because it is a matter of life and death for the people seeking safety who might be sent back to danger or death,” said Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice. “Accuracy might suffer if the asylum gatekeeper is watching a shot clock rather than the facts in the case. President Biden should emphasize getting it right, with resources and personnel to do the job, including legal representation, and that should be his primary focus.”
“How would you want your grandmother, father, brother, or daughter welcomed by authorities when they are in grave danger? Think of your answer, and that is how we should be handling the survivors who come to the border,” said Sarah Gavigan, Senior Immigration Attorney at CARECEN SF. “If this administration forces people to go through a Credible Fear Interview (CFI) in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the result of which can be life or death, they are not centering the dignity and humanity of those survivors. A CBP facility is not the setting for a survivor to open up about trauma. What is more, children will be forced to listen to horrific and traumatic details out of their parents’ mouths, all while in a detention setting, compounding the trauma to children. Even if the CBP officers have the most trauma-informed training possible, the detention setting alone is completely inappropriate for an interview about trauma and fear as it creates anxiety and exacerbates post-traumatic stress disorder. An officer conducting a CFI could more productively use the time spent with the individual to process them with paperwork to allow them to enter the U.S. to see an immigration judge, instead of doing a CFI in a CBP facility which could result in their unjust and hasty removal. We can do better for survivors, who are people of all ages – from babies to the elderly. CARECEN SF strongly opposes a return to the use of the PACR/HARP program, which would increase CFIs at the border, and fully supports any and all programs that honor the struggle, dignity, and bravery of people who are seeking safety and refuge.”
“Just two years ago, President Biden ordered an end to the ‘Prompt Asylum Claim Review’ and ‘Humanitarian Asylum Review Process’ programs, which were among the Trump administration’s worst attack on America’s long tradition of asylum—holding asylum seekers in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody during their initial asylum interview —leading to rushed legal screenings behind closed doors. These policies pushed asylum seekers through the most important interviews of their lives while detained in freezing and unsanitary facilities where it was almost impossible to contact counsel. Despite the Biden administration’s attempts to distinguish its new rapid screening program, the outcomes are likely to be the same. Asylum seekers will be forced to undergo a screening interview that may carry life-or-death consequences in deplorable conditions and without meaningful access to an attorney. The administration should not breathe new life into these inhumane policies,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council.
“Policies seeking to expedite asylum screenings while individuals are held in border detention facilities have time and again circumvented due process and violated human rights standards. This pilot program will force people fleeing persecution to present their legal cases without adequate time to prepare and seek independent counsel. They will be forced to undergo lengthy interviews with asylum officers while held in coercive and horrific border patrol facilities. Interrogating people held in dismal conditions at border facilities is not meaningful access to the asylum process in the United States. It is just another example of the Biden administration reviving and adopting failed Trump era policies,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, Executive Director at Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
“The Women’s Refugee Commission is deeply concerned that the Biden administration is once again implementing harmful policies that the Trump administration already tried and failed,” said Kimiko Hirota, policy advisor of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at Women’s Refugee Commission. “Even legal assistance – a critical resource that WRC generally welcomes – cannot mitigate the insurmountable obstacles individuals face when trying to make a case for their protection moments after being apprehended into CBP custody. In addition to its logistical infeasibility, conducting credible fear interviews while in CBP custody previously led positive rates of fear to plummet. We urge the administration to rebuild the US asylum system and uphold the rights of migrants by bolstering legal counsel and case management programs outside of government custody.”
“As the Biden Administration begins to test faster asylum screenings at the U.S.-Mexico border this week, we urge them to prioritize implementation of a fair and humane asylum system,” said Joan Rosenhauer, Executive Director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. “We welcome reports that those participating in virtual asylum screenings will have access to legal counsel and urge the Administration to avoid any policy that creates new barriers to vulnerable asylum seekers.”
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The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign for asylum rights is composed of more than 100 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org