The US Department of Homeland Security has prepared new guidance for immigration agents aimed at speeding up deportations by denying asylum claims earlier in the process.
The new guidelines, contained in a draft memo dated February 17 but not yet sent to field offices, directs agents to only pass applicants who have a good chance of ultimately getting asylum, but does not give specific criteria for establishing credible fear of persecution if sent home.
The guidance instructs asylum officers to “elicit all relevant information” in determining whether an applicant has “credible fear” of persecution if returned home, the first obstacle faced by migrants on the US-Mexico border requesting asylum.
Three sources familiar with the drafting of the guidance said the goal of the new instructions is to raise the bar on initial screening in order to ease strain on the courts and reduce the number of immigrants allowed to stay in the US, often for years, while they await a hearing.
The administration’s plan is to leave wide discretion to asylum officers by allowing them to determine which applications have a “significant possibility” of being approved by an immigration court, the sources said.
The guidance was first reported and posted on the internet by McClatchy news organisation.
In 2015, just 18 per cent of asylum applicants whose cases were ruled on by immigration judges were granted asylum, according to the Justice Department.
Applicants from countries with a high rate of political persecution have a higher chance of winning their asylum cases.
A tougher approach to asylum seekers would be an element of President Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on immigration and tighten border security, a cornerstone of his election campaign and a top priority of his first month in office.
The guidelines are contained in two draft memos signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and currently under review by the White House, according to two people familiar with them.
The memos also outlined plans for greatly expanding the categories of people that immigration agents target for deportation, and gives them wide discretion in deciding who to deport.
Previously, recent arrivals and convicted criminals were the prime targets. The new plan would include migrants who have been charged but not convicted of crimes, and would also apply to illegal immigrants who have been in the country for many years.
The memos also call for quickly hiring 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as well as 5000 more border patrol agents.