Welcome to the U.S. insane asylum process
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July 25, 2019
The Trump administration issued new rules on asylum last week, disqualifying people from applying for asylum if they had passed through a third country before arriving at the U.S. border, unless they had first sought relief in that other country and been denied. For people seeking asylum from Central America, that means they would have to first seek asylum in either Guatemala or Mexico, depending on where they are arriving from. The administration’s efforts to get either Mexico or Guatemala to agree to “safe third country” status has failed. Absent such a designation, under current U.S. law, people can seek asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. Trump’s new rules were thus an end around this provision and the legislative process.
The new rules were immediately challenged in two court cases, each seeking a temporary injunction - effectively suspending the law while longer court challenges are underway. In one case the judge ruled against the plaintiffs. In a second ruling, the same day, a different court in California ruled against the government and issued the injunction. From NPR:
Hours after a federal judge on the East Coast refused to block a Trump administration rule requiring most asylum-seekers to ask for protection in another country before they try to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, a judge on the West Coast put a stop to the new policy.
U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction against the controversial rule unveiled by the White House and applied on a "pilot" basis last week.
Tigar wrote that the "new Rule is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws."
The administration seeks to fast track asylum claims
Not satisfied with blocking asylum claims for people at the southern border (see above), denying people who enter the U.S. between ports of entry the right to apply for asylum (a policy also blocked by the courts), detaining people while they await asylum hearings - in routinely documented (but not changed) inhumane conditions, and/or sending people back to Mexico to wait in refugee camps and shelters for their number to be called, the administration, with support from members of the Senate, is now seeking to fast track asylum procedures in the name of efficiency, but ultimately meaning a denial of due process. As described in The Hill:
A group of nine senators — six Republicans and three Democrats — is proposing a new pilot program to better manage the influx of families seeking asylum at the southwest border.
“Operation Safe Return,” as the group calls it, would be the first bipartisan step to address the situation at the border, the senators said in a letter Thursday to Trump administration officials. Their plan would streamline the process by which migrant families who have legitimate claims for asylum are processed at the border, and swiftly weed out those who do not.
The plan could be implemented without new legislation, using existing authorities, the senators said. (ed -I love it when congress takes themselves out of decision making process)
Specifically the plan would roll out this way:
Within three days of entry, Border Patrol agents would conduct a “detailed, fair, and accurate” interview with migrant families, with proper access to translation services where applicable. Those who do not express fear would be placed in expedited removal proceedings.
Border Patrol would then inform people in its custody who express a fear of persecution what lies ahead within the next 48-hour period, and provide a list of pro bono attorneys they could consult.
In four days, the family would be taken together to an ICE family detention facility and screened for medical conditions within 12 hours of arrival. Pediatricians or nurses would be available to screen and attend to children.
Within nine days of entry, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers would conduct a credible fear interview — in-person, wherever possible. Within a day, the results would be relayed to the relevant federal agencies. Within two weeks, family units who have passed the interview would be allowed to continue to seek asylum through the existing process. The ones who fail, and have been affirmed in that decision by an immigration judge, would be removed to their home countries.
The plan seems like a detailed, efficient use of resources. The problems, however, are enormous. Border Patrol agents are given too much discretion as the first line of screeners for the process. Translation services, other than Spanish, and even then will not be provided on a timely basis - they don’t do this now at least. Medical screening at an ICE facility is already supposed to happen, and every indication is that they do this very poorly - not to mention fail to provide adequate medical care for those who need it while in detention. And two weeks, even with an attorney, if one can be found (there is no right to an attorney in immigration courts), is not enough time to compile a case for asylum. Expedited removal is already an issue - indeed, FOIA requests to get information on how a variation of the program is currently employed have been a struggle. So, oversight is non existent. The goal here is yet another deterrent strategy, to fast track the removal of people fleeing violence and desperate economic situations, while pretending there is a fair process behind the decision. Ironically, the Orwellian name makes this clear, Operation Safe RETURN. Anybody else getting tired yet?