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Trump Administration Agrees to New Asylum Interviews for Up to 1,000 Migrants

Trump Administration Agrees to New Asylum Interviews for Up to 1,000 Migrants

Acknowledging that the separation of migrant families along the southwest border may have compromised their right to seek asylum, the federal government has agreed to allow a second chance for up to 1,000 migrants who had been facing deportation.In a settlement announced Thursday, lawyers for the government said that parents whose children were taken from…


Acknowledging that the separation of migrant families along the southwest border may have compromised their right to seek asylum, the federal government has agreed to allow a second chance for up to 1,000 migrants who had been facing deportation.

In a settlement announced Thursday, lawyers for the government said that parents whose children were taken from them under the administration’s “zero-tolerance” border enforcement policy will again be able to make a case for asylum. They can also remain in the United States while their children pursue their own asylum cases.

Lawyers for immigrants challenging the thousands of family separations carried out along the border this spring had argued that losing their children had left parents too distraught to adequately make a case for asylum status. The asylum process can be grueling, often requiring lengthy interviews and documentary evidence. As a result, the lawyers said, many of the parents’ claims had been speedily denied.

“It’s an implicit recognition that they did wrong by these families in denying them meaningful access to the asylum system, and that wrong is now going to be made right,” said Simon Y. Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center, who represented the plaintiffs.

The Trump administration stopped separating families along the border in June, but by then, thousands of children had been taken from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy, under which the government sought to criminally prosecute all migrants who entered the United States without permission.

Since then, families that were separated under the policy have launched an onslaught of legal challenges over how it affected their legal rights and emotional well-being. This latest settlement, filed late Wednesday, applies to three of the ongoing cases that have been consolidated under Judge Dana M. Sabraw in San Diego.

Judge Sabraw still needs to approve the agreement.

The parents at the center of the settlement lost their eligibility for asylum in the first stage of the process, as a result of interviews conducted at the border during which a migrant must prove a “credible fear” of returning to their home country, based on the likelihood they would face persecution there.

Most asylum seekers pass their “credible fear” interviews but are eventually denied asylum later in the process, when the burden of proof becomes higher and more specific. To gain asylum, a migrant has to establish that they will face persecution as a result of falling under a broad category of vulnerability, such as race, religion or sexual orientation.

Mr. Sandoval-Moshenberg, who represented the plaintiffs, said that many parents were evaluated for “credible fear” after having their children removed, but before they were told where the children had been taken. He said his team submitted evidence showing that, during the interviews, the parents were “out of their minds with trauma, focused solely on the well-being and the whereabouts of their kids.”

In one piece of evidence included in the case, a recording of an immigration judge questioning a mother about her asylum claim, the mother can be heard crying too hard to answer the judge’s questions and says that she feels sick, Mr. Sandoval-Moshenberg said. After a few minutes, he said, the judge affirms an asylum officer’s finding that the woman’s fear of returning to her home country is not credible and asks that she be taken to see a doctor.

Under the settlement, the families will be allowed to file new evidence to support their claims and to bring lawyers with them to the interviews when logistically possible. Asylum seekers typically go through at least the first stages of the process alone, or with lawyers available only on the phone, Mr. Sandoval-Moshenberg said.

In evaluating any discrepancies between new evidence that is presented and the original asylum interviews, the government said in the settlement that “due consideration will be given to the psychological state of the parent at the time of the initial interview.”

The settlement applies only to parents who were separated from their children but are still in the United States.

In reaching the agreement, the plaintiffs’ lawyers gave up the right to bring a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the hundreds of separated parents who have already been deported, some without their children. Those parents could theoretically still file individual legal challenges.

The bar for asylum claims has risen under the current administration, which hasheightened the burden of proofin “credible fear” interviews andeliminated certain categoriesof vulnerability, such as those that apply to victims of domestic and gang violence, from eligibility.

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