Asylum officers get broader powers in new guidelines Can reject claims based on gang violence, domestic abuse
The government’s citizenship agency issued new guidelines this week that give asylum officers broader powers to reject claims based on domestic abuse or gang violence, clearing the way for those with bogus claims to be speedily deported.
The guidance could help control the surge of migrants from Central America, many of whom are lodging unfounded claims that, under the old rules, required a years-long process to adjudicate, giving the migrants a chance to gain a foothold and disappear into the U.S.
Under the new guidance, officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can ask asylum-seekers to show they were specifically targeted for persecution in their home countries, and that their governments either condoned it or were so indifferent that they might as well have been complicit.
Allegations of general abuse or violent neighborhoods are also no longer enough to qualify under the guidance, which was issued July 11, carrying out a ruling by Attorney General Jeff Sessions a month earlier.
Many of the recent migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have sought asylum based on complaints of dangerous neighborhoods and rough home lives.
“Our laws do not offer protection against instances of violence based on personal, private conflict that is not on account of a protected ground,” said Michael Bars, a spokesman for USCIS.
The guidance also reminds asylum officers that someone who sneaks into the U.S., rather than asking for asylum through more traditional channels, is a major negative factor that can help doom asylum applications.
The guidance could head many wouldbe immigrants off at the pass, denying them even a chance to remain on U.S. soil through bogus or ill-founded asylum claims.
Administration critics say the government will be cutting off a vital lifeline to tens of thousands of immigrants who are fleeing harsh conditions back home. They point to cases of people who say family members have been killed or children forced to join gangs, or husbands who made wives fear for their lives.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans “will have blood on their hands.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the new guidance may break the law by suggesting people who make claims after jumping the border can be treated differently than those who go through legal channels.
Security analysts said that over the last decade, asylum had become too nebulous, with people winning claims based on general poor conditions.
As the standards relaxed, the number of people making claims surged. About 10 percent of all arriving migrants claim asylum now, compared to just 1 percent at the beginning of this decade, the government says.
Only about 3 percent of people who ask to be put on the asylum track will actually win their claims.
Yet just clearing the initial hurdle — claiming “credible fear” of being sent back home — is often enough to earn migrants a foothold in the U.S., getting them released into communities, where they can quickly qualify for work permits and some taxpayer benefits.
Even after they lose their cases, few are actually deported.
Smugglers, aware of the asylum “loophole,” began coaching their migrant clients on the “magic words” to use to clear the credible fear threshold and gain quick entry to the U.S.
Under the new guidance, though, officers were told to reject even pre-asylum “credible fear” claims that don’t meet the higher standards. That paves the way for the government to quickly deport them.
“Few gang-based or domestic-violence claims involving particular social groups defined by the members’ vulnerability to harm may merit a grant of asylum or refugee status,” the guidance says.
Asylum-seekers are those already in the U.S. who claim protection, while refugees are those making claims from outside the U.S.
The new guidance said refugees must also meet the same new high standards.
Ms. Feinstein said that may also run afoul of the law.