Trump administration pursuing plan to allow Border Patrol to decide asylum claims

It’s now widely accepted that we have a crisis at the southern border which has pushed the immigration system to the limit. A big part of the problem is that Central Americans coming to the border mostly don’t try to sneak across and enter the United States unseen. Instead, thousands are showing up every day (in what U.S. officials have dubbed the “conveyor belt”) and are turning themselves over to Border Patrol agents so they can claim asylum. The new asylum seekers have learned that families with children can’t be detained beyond a few days, so if they bring children they are quickly released into the country while they await an appearance before an immigration judge which could take up to 2 years.

The Washington Examiner reports that a Trump administration plan to tighten the border to these asylum claims is now moving forward. The idea is to train Border Patrol agents to hear initial asylum claims, known as “credible fear interviews,” right away in the hope that more of the claims can be denied more quickly:

Under the pending procedural change, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers would train Border Patrol agents on the southern border how to conduct “credible fear interviews,” which immigrants must pass to go on to claim asylum. Agents would conduct the interviews shortly after apprehending people who have illegally crossed from Mexico to the U.S.

The Trump administration is pushing to start agent training “ASAP,” according to one official…

Homeland Security, under acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, would essentially deputize law enforcement to carry out citizenship officers’ jobs in order to initially reduce the number of people who have passed that stage and are waiting on asylum decisions. Those calls usually take two to five years due to the current 900,000 cases waiting to be decided by fewer than 500 immigration judges nationwide.

This isn’t the first time word of this plan has made news. Last month NBC News reported that it had been discussed within the administration for several months as a way to lessen the burden on immigration courts:

Several of Trump’s top advisers have for months pushed outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to make such changes to the asylum process, officials said. Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller in particular has argued that Customs and Border Protection agents will be tougher on asylum-seekers and will pass fewer of them on the initial screening, known as a credible fear interview, the sources said…

Currently, about 90 percent of asylum-seekers pass the credible fear interview, according to data from DHS, but only about 10 percent go on to be granted asylum by a judge. Due to a backlog in immigration courts, those who pass the initial interview live in the U.S., either in detention or at large, for months or years while waiting for their cases to be adjudicated.

The reality is that while some of the migrants may have real claims for asylum, the majority are coming for economic reasons. That’s understandable given the current conditions in Central America but it’s not grounds for asylum.

However, don’t expect to see this plan rolled out anytime soon. Both the Examiner and NBC News point out that any change in policy is likely to be challenged in court. The administration can start training agents right away but the ACLU or some other group will seek to block this before it actually begins.