The Trump administration has quietly implemented an experimental program in El Paso intended to expedite asylum proceedings along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Instituted secretly at the beginning of October, the pilot program is jointly run by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) and aims to reduce the time it takes to adjudicate asylum cases from months, or even years, to ten days or less while also alleviating the burdens placed on the overwhelmed asylum system.
The secret initiative first reported by the Washington Post requires asylum-seekers to remain in detention during the ten or fewer days their cases are presided over by immigration officials.
In doing so, individuals who are unable to prove “credible fear” as defined under U.S. statute will be denied asylum upon arrival at the border.
Though the rule has yet to be publicly announced, some immigration attorneys have raised concerns about denial of due process and restricted attorney access for asylum-seekers at Border Patrol stations, as those detained are only permitted to speak with their attorneys via phone.
Under current procedures, asylum-seekers are normally detained by Border Patrol for a short period of time before being transferred to detention centers maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and interviewed by asylum officers to assess “credible fear.”
During this time, immigrants in detention are typically able to confer with their attorneys in person prior to these interviews leading some to criticize the new policy for setting individuals up for a higher rate of failure.
However, the pilot program is designed to allow detainees access to a phone 24 hours prior to their initial asylum interview during which time they can consult with an immigration attorney.
The new initiative is also an effort by the Trump administration to enforce the terms of asylum cooperation agreements, which mandate that individuals first apply for asylum in a country through which they initially pass while en route to the United States.
Currently, the U.S. maintains asylum cooperation agreements with Central American countries Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
At the end of the fiscal year in 2019, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported more than 977,000 illegal immigrant apprehensions and individuals deemed inadmissible at the southwest border, a number nearly double that of Fiscal Year 2018, which saw just over 520,000.
In order to be granted asylum under the new initiative and in accordance with asylum cooperation agreements, individuals must be denied asylum in another country through which they passed while traveling to the United States, be able to prove “credible fear,” or meet other requirements specified by DHS.
Additionally, under the terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement as it currently stands, unaccompanied children will also be excluded under federal law.
Though the rule has yet to be publicly announced and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have threatened to challenge the new initiative in court, no formal challenges have been presented thus far.
El Paso, however, is not the only region in Texas to be impacted by new border initiatives.
Earlier this week, DHS announced an expansion of the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), to a sixth location in Eagle Pass.
The MPPs, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, are a joint effort between the United States and the government of Mexico requiring individuals waiting for their immigration cases to be adjudicated to remain in Mexico.
According to DHS, “the Government of Mexico has indicated operational capability to accept returns at Eagle Pass.”
While awaiting their adjudication in Mexico, individuals will receive notices to appear before an immigration judge at a temporary facility in Laredo two to four months in the future.
Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.