According to recent findings uncovered by a lawsuit earlier this month, only an estimated 10 percent of asylum applicants in the US passed their “credible fear” interview over the last six months. This is based on findings from a detention centre in Texas.
The centre, which hosts women and children seeking refuge in the US on the Mexico-Texas border, has seen a rapid decrease in the pass-rate of this interview since the Summer. Before mid-July, 97% of applicants passed in the same centre.
The credible fear interview is the first step in examining the legitimacy of an asylum application and is conducted by an immigration official, usually in a detention and removal centre.
If asylum applicants don’t pass this test, they are unable to move onto the next stage, which is presenting their case for refuge to an immigration judge. They can then be deported within days.
10% of asylum applicants in the US passed their “credible fear” interview… down from 97% in mid-July
As no official changes have been made to the interview process or criteria, many are concerned about where this massive drop has come from, with various human rights lawyers and activists blaming it on the Trump administration’s hostility towards asylum-seekers.
Elora Mukherjee, the attorney responsible for legally challenging this issue, said:
“This administration is trying to end asylum in the United States. What we’re seeing in the credible fear process is one part of a systemic effort by this administration to end asylum”.
The sudden drop was bought to Mukherjee and her colleague’s attention by the Dilley Pro Bono Project. This provides legal support for every woman and child held by the centre. The project raised the alarm after it saw a sudden and drastic dip in the number of people passing the interview.
Based on what volunteers on the ground have said they’ve seen at the centre unofficial regulatory changes seem to have been made to the interview process. For instance, several applicants said they had been interviewed on multiple occasions, instead of once. During these interviews, they say they were asked to recount their experiences repeatedly, which was highly traumatic for them.
If these changes have been made, this means that the centre has circumvented Congress.
While Mukherjee’s lawsuit is being assessed, the deportation of the plaintiffs involved is being held off.
…unofficial regulatory changes seem to have been made to the interview process…this means that the centre has circumvented congress
According to the lawsuit’s arguments, attorneys believe that the Trump administration made undercover changes to the credible fear process. This comes at the same time as a law passed by the administration which prohibits individuals from applying for asylum in the US if they have passed through another safe country first. This has limited the number of people capable of claiming asylum in the US to Mexicans on the border or people who have flown into the US as a visitor.
The credible fear interview is a practice that has been firmly established in US immigration law since 1996. It was originally created as the first step for asylum seekers so that they could have a chance to prepare their claim for a judge. Historically, the threshold has been low for this, as the interview was never intended to be used as a single deciding factor for applications.
“What we’re seeing in the credible fear process is one part of a systemic effort by this administration to end asylum”Elora Mukherjee
Activists argue that this a breach of law and of ethics, as it firmly denies the fundamental human right to safe refuge.