The Trump administration is set to refuse asylum to adults and families who cross into the US from Mexico, when a proclamation signed by President Donald Trump Friday morning takes effect at midnight.
But mere hours before it becomes official, at least some asylum officers — the first people who will be responsible for implementing the new policy on the ground — tell Vox they still haven’t been emailed guidance from US Citizenship and Immigration Services about it.
Asylum officers conduct the screening interviews that determine whether someone who’s entered the US without papers will be allowed to stay and apply for protection, or be summarily deported. The new policy raises the standard for those screening interviews in the case of people who have crossed at points other than official border crossings. Instead of showing they have a “credible fear” of persecution in the country they’re fleeing (a standard which 75 percent of asylum-seekers pass), these migrants must show they have a “reasonable fear,” a stricter test which has a 25 percent pass rate among the limited population already subject to it.
While the ACLU and other groups have filed suit over the policy, they are not asking the judge in the Northern District of California to stop it from going into effect. According to a motion filed Friday night, the plaintiffs want to have a hearing on Tuesday — with the assumption that the judge could order the Trump administration to stop enforcing the policy during that hearing, or at any time after.
A memo was published — but some asylum officers say they didn’t receive it
The Department of Homeland Security wrote in a fact sheet Friday morning that “On November 9, USCIS issued a new field guidance for asylum officers to adjudicate claims in accordance with the Interim Final Rule and Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(f) and § 215(a)(1) Presidential Proclamation.” A 6-page memo from agency director L. Francis Cissna, outlining the changes made by the regulation and order and reiterating the difference between the “credible fear” and “reasonable fear” standards was posted on the USCIS website Friday night.
Some USCIS staff said they had gotten the Cissna memo via email — but not until 6:30 pm on Friday. Others — including two asylum officers, one of whom works in an office that will be processing cases under the new regulation on Saturday — said they had not received an email at all. (All requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.)
The failure to send a memo around via email may seem minor. But the interview with an asylum officer is the only chance asylum-seekers may have to demonstrate that they fear persecution in their home country.
The new policy shifts the standard for most of the cases that certain asylum officers (such as those detailed to detention centers where people who have just been apprehended by Border Patrol are kept) will have to deal with. And since asylum officers conducted 10 times as many “credible fear” interviews as “reasonable fear” ones before the new policy, they may not be as familiar with the standard they are now applying to the bulk of their cases.
The Trump administration’s biggest immigration-policy failures have been due to poor training and implementation, from the first travel ban to the family-separation policy of late spring 2018. The next few days will demonstrate if the asylum ban belongs in that category.