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White House adviser Stephen Miller, the architect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy, thinks citizenship officials are too easy on migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. He’d rather Border Patrol agents asses if they’re really in enough danger to apply for asylum.
Miller is looking for ways to reduce the number of migrants who pass their initial “credible fear” interviews, the first step in the asylum process, according to emails obtained by NBC News between an official with the National Security Council and Customs and Border Protection. Most migrants pass those interviews, which are conducted by officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). But Miller sees Border Patrol officers as less soft, current and former Homeland Security officials told NBC .
“My mantra has persistently been presenting aliens with multiple unsolvable dilemmas to impact their calculus for choosing to make the arduous journey to begin with,” the National Security official said in an email, according to NBC.
Administration officials have also previously suggested that USCIS officials aren’t stringent enough during the credible fear process and that the approval rate is too high.
Asylum officers employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services started training 60 Border Patrol agents to conduct credible fear screenings in May. At the time, the administration said that would help process migrants faster and address the surge in people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The approval rate for credible fear interviews varies, but it’s currently around 90%. During the 2018 fiscal year, 72,661 interviews were conducted, and 55,562 people passed them, according to federal data. The rest were either denied or had their cases closed.
In another effort to limit the number of “meritless” asylum claims, the administration issued a new rule earlier this month that drastically limited asylum protections for migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. (That policy has since been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.) The rule cited the high rate of asylum denials as proof that thousands of people were trying to exploit the system. In fiscal 2018, 65% of asylum claims were denied.
Other immigration officials have repeatedly claimed that migrants who pass their interviews don’t attend their asylum hearings.
But the fact that it’s easier to pass a credible fear screening than to be granted asylum isn’t a loophole in the process.
“Congress wasn’t trying to find meritorious asylum claims when they instituted credible fear [screenings],” Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, told VICE News when the asylum rule passed. “They were only trying to find claims so clearly frivolous that we would not be at risk of violating our obligations to not return people to persecution abroad.”
In other words, the credible fear interviews are meant to be a baseline, hence the relatively high approval rates.
There are other reasons why migrants who have faced genuine persecution in their home countries may not be granted asylum: Many don’t understand the legal process, especially those who don’t have lawyers. Others may be fleeing violence, but not the kind that would qualify someone for asylum protections: persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
Cover image: White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller waits for the start of a meeting with President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House in Seoul, Sunday, June 30, 2019. AP Photo/Susan Walsh)