New Interpretation of Guidelines Tighten Standards for Asylum Seekers

With recently re-interpreted guidelines for asylum seekers, the United States is at risk of summarily deporting immigrants back to their home countries, where they may face dangerous situations — and sometimes death — in exchange for political expediency.

An internal memo from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials raises the bar for asylum seekers, who will now need to demonstrate a “significant possibility” of succeeding with their claims before their cases will be heard by an immigration judge. Immigration law experts have criticized the re-interpretation of existing guidelines, arguing that the new threshold sends an improper message to asylum officers and imposes a burden on asylum applicants that surpasses standards in current U.S. asylum law.

The U.S. immigration system provides “credible fear” interviews to those individuals who present themselves at the border and express a fear of returning to their home countries. These interviews serve as a screening tool to determine whether an asylum seeker should be immediately deported or referred to an immigration judge to make their case. At this time, asylum seekers are not required to establish a meritorious claim; a non-frivolous claim is all that is necessary.

Maintaining a low standard for “credible fear” interviews is critical, especially considering that many asylum applicants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are unable to clearly articulate their fears of persecution. Language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, and lack of information about the U.S. legal system further necessitate deference to the applicant.

U.S. immigration officials have defended the revised interpretation of the language by claiming that previous standards have been improperly understood to require only a “minimal or mere possibility of success.” The memo clarifies the current standard as requiring the applicant to “demonstrate a substantial and realistic possibility” of succeeding with their asylum claim.

The memo was issued in response to a dramatic increase of applications and too many positive findings of credible fear, indicating that U.S. immigration officials are seeking an easy fix to an overburdened system. The United States has long been a safe haven for victims of human rights violations or those who fear persecution in their countries of origin. Deporting at-risk immigrants back into unsafe situations is against our founding principles. Doing it for the sake of convenience is shameful.

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