Administration Should Move Ahead with Measures to Strengthen Refugee and Asylum Systems

New York City – Human Rights First said today that, despite the president’s decision not to move forward with executive orders on immigration at this time, there are a number of steps the Obama Administration can take to strengthen the U.S. asylum and immigration systems.

“There are a number of critical, and in some cases long overdue, steps that should be taken to address particularly acute problems that impact the U.S. asylum and immigration systems daily,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “These steps will address flawed approaches that are undermining this country’s global leadership in protecting refugees.”

Human Rights First researchers have conducted multiple visits over the last few months to immigration detention facilities, key border points, border patrol stations, and asylum offices along the southern border and in particular in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The trips helped Human Rights to identify workable solutions for improving the asylum system and honoring our nation’s commitment to refugee protection. The research resulted in recommendations found in Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Protect Refugees and Prevent Abuse at the Border” for addressing the increase in protection requests at the border through measures that protect refugees and strengthen the integrity and effectiveness of the system. Some recommendations include:

  • Address impact of delays in immigration courts proceedings and asylum interviews, including:  
    • Champion and prioritize full funding for immigration courts and asylum offices, so all cases – not only those from border – receive a hearing or interview in a timely manner, rather than waiting years.
    • Until delays in non-border cases are eliminated, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) should set up, and USCIS should be encouraged to continue, a process to allow prompt decisions in cases of urgent humanitarian need, including those where children/spouses are stranded in dangerous/difficult situations abroad.
  • Assure access to asylum and other protection, including:  
    • USCIS should revise the February 2014 credible fear training guidance including to: clarify in additional places that screenings are not full-blown adjudications; restore prior language on the legislative history concerning the level of the screening standard; make adjustments to revise other language that appears to attempt to further raise the “significant possibility” standard; and clarify that asylum seekers are not expected to produce documentary evidence at credible fear interviews.
  • Improve access to counsel and fair processing
    • EOIR and USCIS should provide guidance to immigration courts and asylum officers making clear that adjournments necessary to secure counsel and to gather evidence/take steps necessary to prepare a case should be granted, and “rocket docket” approach should be abandoned.
  • Use alternatives to detention practices, which are inconsistent with refugee and human rights conventions   
    • The use of detention and alternatives to detention should be based on individualized assessments of the need for these tools to assure appearance, rather than a blanket approach. ICE should use proven and cost-effective alternatives to detention rather than detention in cases in which detention is not needed to assure appearance for hearings or deportation, including in border cases.


Chart: Credible Fear Grant Rates
Blueprint: How to Protect Refugees and Prevent Abuse at the Border
Factsheet: Key Statistics and Findings on Asylum Protection Requests at the U.S.–Mexico Border


Published on September 9, 2014


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