Florence Project Urges Biden Administration to Reconsider Expedited Processing Plan at the U.S.-Mexico Border
Phoenix, AZ – The Florence Project is deeply concerned by reports about the Biden administration’s plan to begin conducting credible fear interviews while arriving asylum seekers are in CBP custody, within days of their arrival to the United States. These fear interviews determine whether the person has a “credible” fear of persecution or torture if returned to their home country. Unless the person passes this initial fear screening, the individual generally will be immediately deported back to their country.
“Though the details of this plan remain unclear, we know that a plan like this will rush the critical, initial steps of the asylum process at the expense of meaningful access to counsel and due process,” said Laura St. John, Florence Project Legal Director. “It is simply not possible for arriving asylum seekers to receive comprehensive legal orientations and be prepared for an initial credible fear interview, the first step in seeking asylum, within days of their arrival to the United States.”
Years of failed pilot programs and “rocket dockets” in immigration court have proven time and time again that these initiatives typically lead to massive due process violations with few, if any, gains in efficiency.
Furthermore, this sort of expedited processing is unnecessary and will lead to people being deported back to the dangerous conditions they fled. Studies show that over 90% of immigrants appear for court when they have counsel. Immigration detention, whether in ICE detention centers or in CBP custody at the border, is cruel, punitive, and unnecessary. These types of rapid processing programs allow no recourse for people who fail their initial fear screening, many of whom don’t speak English or Spanish, are exhausted and ill after a harrowing journey to the U.S., aren’t familiar with our legal system, and have endured severe trauma.
This is deeply concerning because we already witness asylum officers routinely getting these fear screenings wrong. As recently as last month, a study evaluating appeals of fear screenings found that “over 25 percent of [Immigration Judge] decisions over the last 25 years have found that migrants had established having a credible fear of persecution or torture after an asylum officer initially denied the claim.” When a credible fear screening is wrongfully denied, it means that an asylum seeker will be deported back to danger or death. This is why it is so alarming to think of how many decisions asylum officers would get wrong in a system that pressures them to conduct these fear screenings even faster. This new system sets up both the asylum seeker and the asylum officer to fail.
The only way to create a more efficient and fair system is make sure that everyone in immigration proceedings has access to full legal representation from the beginning to the end of their case, to end immigration detention, and to create a system that centers humanity and values due process as much as it does efficiency.
Further, a plan like this will lead to longer periods of detention in CBP custody for many people while they await their Credible Fear Interview. The Florence Project and many other organizations have extensively documented the abhorrent conditions and rampant abuse that often occurs in CBP custody, particularly of minors. Any plan that extends the detention of asylum seekers in CBP custody is one we condemn.
We urge the Biden administration to reconsider this ill-advised plan and instead focus on solutions that prioritize the safety, humanity, and dignity of all those seeking refuge on our shores. The deterrence and detention framework that this plan builds upon is as fundamentally flawed as it is morally corrupt. We stand in solidarity with all migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and will continue to work diligently to rebuild a just, humane asylum system.