Legislators: Trump admin. gutting asylum process in New England
Boston agents to handle cases at southern border by phone
SENS. ED MARKEY and Elizabeth Warren and US Rep. Ayanna Pressley are accusing the Trump administration of gutting the immigration asylum process in New England by directing the agency’s Boston employees to work on cases arising at the nation’s southwest border.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal lawmakers said the shift of resources “will mean that 40,000 pending affirmative asylum cases in New England will be essentially frozen.”
Affirmative asylum cases typically involve people who arrived in the country legally and then apply for asylum within a year, claiming it is unsafe for them to return home. Asylum officers interview the applicants and determine if their claims are valid.
Border asylum cases have the added component of immigrants crossing the border and immediately requesting asylum. Those applicants are screened by asylum officers to determine if the applicant has a “credible fear.” Those who meet that standard are sent to an immigration judge for a full hearing.
Pressley, Warren, and Markey say the officers will conduct credible fear and reasonable fear interviews in-person or by telephone and, as a result, no new interviews will be scheduled in the Boston office and only a small number will be scheduled in the Newark office.
A spokeswoman for the immigration agency said on Wednesday that the Boston officers will be conducting interviews by phone, and that no one will be sent to the southern border. The spokeswoman said Boston officers are temporarily not scheduling affirmative asylum cases for interview, but she said “they continue to work a number of post-interview backlog cases and they are still scheduling expedited interview requests on a case-by-case basis.”
Boston University law lecturer and attorney Sarah Sherman-Stokes says the “post-interview” backlog being referred to are just the ones where the asylum seeker has already been interviewed. But for the people waiting for an interview? “Nothing is going to happen,” she said.
In Massachusetts, the time frame for getting an asylum interview was already long. Sherman-Stokes said she has one set of clients who have waited for an interview since December 2017 and another client that has been waiting since March 2018.
“The government wants us to think that we have to choose between the availability of asylum at the border or in the interior of the United States. But they’re wrong,” she said. “The statute doesn’t make such distinctions – noncitizens are entitled to apply for asylum at the border, at ports of entry, and within the US. For that statutory right to have any meaning, we cannot close asylum here in New England.”
She and the Massachusetts lawmakers say the administration was well aware of the growing demand for asylum at the border, but did little to prepare for the influx.Markey, Warren, and Pressley accused the Trump administration of compounding the humanitarian crises at the border by expanding detention facilities for migrants, and restricting the claims for which migrants can seek asylum. They also called on the federal immigration agency to clarify the methods by which it made its decision to re-assign the officers’ caseloads, asking for a response by September 10.
The spokeswoman for the immigration agency said the Boston office has less than 20 employees in total. The agency says the Boston office will resume affirmative asylum scheduling in Boston as soon as possible as it monitors its resources.