Asy­lum of­fi­cers get broader pow­ers in new guide­lines Can re­ject claims based on gang vi­o­lence, do­mes­tic abuse

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

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.

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