Since Border Patrol agents started conducting initial asylum screenings in June, they have approved fewer than half of the nearly 2,000 screenings they have completed, marking a steep drop from the usual rate of approvals done by asylum officers, according to government data obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The data confirms fears that immigrant advocates have had about the controversial pilot project launched by the Trump administration in June to have Border Patrol agents conduct the interviews, in addition to US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers who have exclusively done so in the past. The 47% passage rate by border agents appears to be lower than the publicly available data, which shows USCIS officers typically have a more than 80% passage rate in initial credible fear screenings.
Immigration advocates fear that Border Patrol agents are using an “enforcement mindset” in what is essentially a humanitarian screening to determine whether a person has a fear of persecution in their home country.
Administration officials have long been critical of the first asylum interview, known as a credible fear screening, as being too lenient. They have pushed asylum officers to be stricter in such interviews. Advocates and experts believe the pilot project is part of an overall focus to dismantle the asylum process, along with rules to bar asylum for those who cross through Mexico to get to the southern border.
“It signifies a different perspective. Border Patrol is a law enforcement agency. They are not adjudicators. Border Patrol agents are trained with the purpose of keeping people out,” said Ur Jaddou, a former USCIS chief counsel under the Obama administration. “That’s what they do. That perspective is inevitably going in a decision.”
Around 60 Border Patrol agents have been assigned to conduct the screenings, according to officials. The project began as a way to help stem the backlog of asylum screenings as record numbers of families crossed the border this past year. In recent months, the number of arrests at the border has steadily dropped, but agents continue to conduct the screenings.
By Hamed Aleaziz for BUZZ FEED.NEWS
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