Human Rights First Condemns Administration Plan to Fast-Track Asylum Screenings
WASHINGTON DC – Human Rights First calls on the administration to abandon a plan once used by the Trump administration and focus instead on upholding due process, human rights, and refugee law. Reports state that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will begin to conduct fast-track asylum screenings through expedited removal in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody within days of asylum seekers’ arrival to the United States, an approach used by the Trump administration that led to mass due process violations and deportation of refugees.
“Expedited removal is a fatally flawed process, and the Biden administration’s use of it has resulted in many asylum seekers wrongly ordered deported, including LGBTQ individuals and Haitians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and others fleeing political persecution,” said Rebecca Gendelman, Senior Research and Policy Counsel at Human Rights First and lead researcher and author of Human Rights First’s August 2022 report on expedited removal. “Conducting fast-track credible fear interviews in CBP custody within days of arrival for refugees who have fled persecution and torture, with little to no access to attorneys, will only escalate this due process nightmare. Rather than modeling immigration and border policies on the Trump playbook, the Biden administration should focus on ensuring meaningful, accurate, and fair asylum adjudications.”
The Trump administration used pilot programs known as Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) to similarly conduct fast-track asylum screenings in CBP custody for Mexican and Central American asylum seekers. Those screenings were conducted in facilities with abysmal conditions where asylum seekers had severely limited access to attorneys.
Asylum seekers detained in CBP custody have frequently reported being provided insufficient or inedible food and water; lack of access to showers and other basic hygiene; and inability to sleep because of overcrowding, lack of adequate bedding, cold conditions, and lights that are kept on all night. Positive credible fear determinations for asylum seekers subjected to PACR and HARP, positive credible fear determinations plummeted: only 18 percent of individuals in PACR and 30 percent in HARP passed their screenings, compared to 40 percent nationwide (excluding HARP and PACR) during the same period.
President Biden issued a clear directive to DHS to end the PACR and HARP programs in his February 2021 Executive Order. In that same Executive Order, President Biden promised to “restore and strengthen our asylum system, which has been badly damaged by policies enacted over the last four years that contravened our values and caused needless human suffering.” Human Rights First agrees with the Biden administration’s initial assessment that our asylum system is broken and that we must not return to Trump-era policies like PACR and HARP or any versions of these policies.
Human Rights First also reiterates its call for the Biden administration to abandon its plans to pursue an asylum ban and stresses that under no circumstances should any bans or bars to asylum be assessed during this preliminary and highly flawed process.
The Trump administration’s use of the transit ban in expedited removal, including in the PACR and HARP programs, blocked many refugees from accessing the U.S. asylum system, including a 16-year-old girl who fled trafficking and sexual exploitation, an Indigenous Guatemalan woman who was sexually assaulted because of her ethnicity, and a Central American woman fleeing domestic violence by an abuser who killed one of her children.