In recent months, there has been concern about whether immigration officials have been misinterpreting the current asylum rules. Specifically, the confusion centers around which immigrants get to see a judge based on asylum claims. Based on those concerns, the Homeland Security Department has reissued asylum rules to immigration officials.
One important element in deciding whether an asylum case goes before a judge is when the immigrant makes a “credible fear” claim, which is the first step in the asylum process, the individual must have a “significant possibility” of winning the asylum case before a judge.
In his memo, John Lafferty, the Chief of the Asylum Division at the USCIS, stated that “in order to meet that standard immigrants have to demonstrate a substantial and realistic possibility of succeeding in court.” The memo does not significantly alter any current immigration policy standard, but merely updates an officer training course lesson plan. This “update” has been used before. In fact, the same language was used by Lafferty in 2008, when he was describing the “standard to win a full hearing before an immigration judge.”
In addition to the concern stated above, the revised guidance was issued because there has been a significant increase in the number of “credible fear” claims cases with the agency. Just last year, Lafferty stated that USCIS has handled more of those cases in 2013 than from 2007 to 2011 combined. Further, there was a 250% increase in those cases between 2012 and 2013. In 2013, it was reported that 36,026 credible fear claims were filed. This is according to a December 2013 Congressional Research Report on asylum.
The majority of credible fear claims actually filed between the years of 2011-2013 were subsequently approved and sent to an immigration judge for a final ruling. This is according to a report issued by USCIS.
In addition, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance has held numerous protests near the U.S. and Mexico border. These protests often involve young immigrants who are seeking asylum. USCIS has come out with a statement, reminding the public that the government's rules for asylum seekers have not been revised. Jeff Carter, a USCIS spokesperson, said "[t]he current training guidelines are to ensure proper implementation of the statutory standard that governs these screenings."
In the recent months, Republican lawmakers have spoken out saying that the “asylum system was being abused by immigrants who have little or no chance of winning asylum. In many situations, those who are seeking asylum and have their case heard by a judge will end up being released from immigration detention and obtain a work permit while the case is pending.
Carlos Spector is an immigration lawyer in El Paso, Texas. He defends dozens of asylum seekers and says that the instructions on the most recent memo permit asylum officers to act as immigration judges. "The message here is: You are now empowered to send people back," Spector said.
If you are seeking asylum and need legal representation, contact an experienced immigration lawyer as soon as possible. It is in your best interest to work with a legal professional who can advise you on your options.