The Trump administration is considering a measure that would empower United States Customs and Border Protection officials to hold interviews with potential asylum seekers and decide on the spot whether to allow illegal immigrants claiming asylum onto the next phase of immigration control.
The Washington Examiner reports that the Department of Homeland Security is "racing" to implement a new policy designed to "give federal law enforcement on the border the authority to conduct interviews with asylum seekers who fear returning to their home countries."
Those so-called "fear interviews" are the first official step in the asylum process for immigrants who appear at the border seeking temporary citizenship status. Most, if not all, of the million-plus illegal immigrants who have arrived at the border in the first quarter of 2019 have been asylum seekers — often appearing at official border crossings as part of a so-called "migrant caravan" from Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador, and often as part of a family.
Officials at DHS hope that the new policy will help take part of the burden off Immigration and Customs Enforcement by lowering the number of claims to be processed by overwhelmed ICE agents.
"U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers would train Border Patrol agents on the southern border how to conduct 'credible fear interviews,' which immigrants must pass to go on to claim asylum," the Examiner reports. "Agents would conduct the interviews shortly after apprehending people who have illegally crossed from Mexico to the U.S."
The policy would take Customs and Border Protection agents off the front lines but would expedite deportations and provide some illegal immigrants with a definitive decision on asylum right away, if they don't pass their "credible fear interviews." ICE would handle only those immigrants whose claims seem to fit the United States' official requirements for granting asylum.
Right now, CBP and ICE are processing the claims traditionally, going person-by-person. But while that process is fine for years when only a few hundred or few thousand people are crossing the United States' southern border per month, the arrival of migrant caravans carrying thousands of asylum seekers at a time, has overwhelmed the system. ICE officials cannot process claims fast enough to get new asylum seekers out of border patrol custody within the requisite 72 days, and border patrol facilities aren't equipped for long-term or high-volume situations.
When CBP can no longer handle crowds of immigrants, they now must "catch-and-release" at the end of 72 days, allowing asylum seekers to remain in the United States under minimal supervision until their immigration hearing date, typically 2-to-5 years from their arrival.
Under the new policy, instead of simply waiting for ICE to make decisions, DH "would essentially deputize law enforcement to carry out citizenship officers’ jobs in order to initially reduce the number of people who have passed that stage and are waiting on asylum decisions. Those calls usually take two to five years due to the current 900,000 cases waiting to be decided by fewer than 500 immigration judges nationwide."
Under the new policy, DHS believes they can take the backlog down from 2-to-5 years to 2-to-5 weeks.
The White House is still outlining the exact provisions of the new policy, but the Examiner reports that the Trump administration does not believe it will have to go through Congress to implement the change.