A growing number of asylum-seekers are setting up makeshift camps on the Mexican side of the southern border, across from El Paso, while they await hearings with U.S. immigration officials. Some wait weeks or even months for that appointment. But now, the Trump administration is testing a secretive program called Prompt Asylum Claim Review to fast-track those hearings.
Bob Moore is an El Paso-based reporter covering this story for The Washington Post. He says the new program started in October; it’s intended for asylum-seekers who don’t pass the “credible fear” test used to determine their eligibility for asylum in the United States. He says most asylum-seekers don’t pass that test because of a new policy.
“Under the current state of affairs, it’s almost impossible for anyone other than a Mexican to be able to win a credible fear interview,” Moore says.
The rule the administration announced in July automatically denies asylum to people who have not already tried to claim asylum in another country first. Those fleeing Guatemala, for example, would have to seek asylum in Mexico or a different country first – and be rejected there – before trying in America.
As for the new Prompt Asylum Claim Review program, few have reported about it because, Moore says, it was rolled out in secret. He found out about it through immigration attorneys in El Paso whose clients experienced its effects. For one thing, asylum-seekers not allowed to have an attorney in person during interviews with immigration officials, he says.
“It’s problematic for immigration attorneys for a lot of reasons,” Moore says. “All of this takes at a Border Patrol station, and by long-standing policy, attorneys don’t have access to their clients when they’re in Border Patrol stations.”
Moore says they can only communicate with lawyers by phone. Two sisters from Central America he reported on didn’t even have access to that.
“They actually had a lawyer already lined up before they even left their home country,” Moore says. “[But] their lawyer was not able to intercede on their behalf.
Moore says immigration lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union argue the new program violates asylum-seekers’ right to due process. Those running the immigration courts say they’re following the law.
So far, no one has challenged the program in court, but Moore expects civil rights groups will do so soon.
Written by Caroline Covington.