Lawsuit Challenges Credible Fear Process for Immigrant Families Held in Artesia Detention Facility
New York City – Human Rights First said that today’s lawsuit against the federal government’s policies at the immigrant detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, tackles many of the due process concerns found at the facility. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, follows an alarming drop in the “pass” rate for U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “credible fear” screening interviews. Human Rights First says that this steep decline reflects new practices and policies that are inconsistent with U.S. immigration law and U.S. commitments under international refugee and human rights conventions.
“During my week in Artesia, I met with families, including victims of domestic violence, who had cases that met the legal standard for asylum, yet did not pass a credible fear screening. Some of the problems I witnessed included asylum officers misapplying the standard, not probing the asylum seeker for enough detail, which leads to critical information being missed, and conducting interviews with the asylum seeker’s minor children in the room,” said Human Rights First’s Andrea Guttin, who recently visited the facility to provide legal counsel for many of the detained immigrant families. Guttin prepared a declaration for today’s lawsuit.
From January to July of this year the credible fear screening grant rate dropped from 83.1 percent to 62.7 percent, according to recent data. In Artesia, the grants rates are even lower than the national average – only 37.8% percent of families pass the credible fear screening. Asylum seekers who do not pass this credible fear screening process will be summarily deported without even being allowed to apply for asylum or other protection in the United States.
Following criticism of the credible fear pass rate by several members of Congress, USCIS issued new training guidance on the conduct of credible fear screening interviews in February 2014. In its June 2014 report on asylum and the border, Human Rights First identified a number of concerns about the new training guidance, which, along with an accompanying memorandum that cites to an increase in credible fear interviews and “the attention on these adjudications,” appears to signal that asylum officers should apply a higher standard in credible fear screenings.
Human Rights First urges USCIS to revise, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to instruct USCIS to revise, the February 2014 Lesson Plan on Credible Fear in a number of ways 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.
“With the significant shifts in the conduct of these critical screening interviews, the United States is putting the lives of refugees, including women and children, at risk, and violating its commitments under international refugee law,” said Guttin.