U.S. asylum screeners to take more confrontational approach as Trump aims to turn more migrants away at the border
By Nick Miroff
The Trump administration has sent new guidelines to asylum officers, directing them to take a more skeptical and confrontational approach during interviews with migrants seeking refuge in the United States. It is the latest measure aimed at tightening the nation’s legal “loopholes” that Homeland Security officials blame for a spike in border crossings.
According to internal documents and staff emails obtained Tuesday by The Washington Post, the asylum officers will more aggressively challenge applicants whose claims of persecution contain discrepancies, and they will need to provide detailed justifications before concluding that an applicant has a well-founded fear of harm if deported to their home country.
The changes require officers to zero in on any gaps between what migrants say to U.S. border agents after they are taken into custody and testimony they provide during the interview process with a trained asylum officer.
“Officers conducting credible fear interviews should also be addressing any more detailed inconsistencies between the applicant’s testimony during the credible fear interview and other testimony in sworn statement,” John Lafferty, the head of the asylum division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), wrote to staff in an email, outlining the changes.
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The new guidelines and directive to asylum officers are among the most significant steps the administration has taken to limit access to the country for foreigners seeking asylum, whose right to apply for humanitarian protection is protected by U.S. law and rooted in post-World War II international treaties granting refuge to those fleeing persecution. The changes appear to signal that the administration wants to turn away asylum seekers earlier in the legal process, aiming to cut down on the number of applicants who enter the court system and to deter others from attempting to cross into the United States to seek asylum.
Tighter control over asylum claims would fit into a broader White House effort to control the parameters of legal immigration. White House officials — including senior adviser Jared Kushner — met with Republican members of Congress on Tuesday as they drafted a proposal that would base the immigration system largely on an immigrant’s ability to contribute to the economy. The Trump administration already has set lower limits on refugees, is cracking down on visa overstays and has alleged that many asylum seekers crossing the southern border are frauds.
The government also has been sending some asylum seekers back to Mexico as part of a program that requires migrants to stay on the other side of the border until their U.S. court hearings are complete. A federal court blocked the implementation and expansion of the program, and the government has appealed that finding. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, on Tuesday ruled that the Trump administration can temporarily continue the program while the court waits to hear the case, though two of the three judges on the panel indicated that they had broader legal reservations about the policy.
With a record number of Central American families arriving at the border and swamping U.S. courts with asylum claims, President Trump has repeatedly scoffed at the protections and has told crowds that dangerous criminals are using it to game the system and stay in the United States.
“The asylum program is a scam,” Trump said last month in a speech. “Some of the roughest people you’ve ever seen, people that look like they should be fighting for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) . . . you look at this guy you say ‘Wow, that’s a tough cookie!’ ”
One asylum officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the changes are “huge” and would make the screening process more time-consuming by requiring officers to provide detailed written analysis before referring an applicant to the courts.
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