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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press An art installation on display outside the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday shows a mother reaching out to her child to mark the first anniversary of the Trump administration's family separation policy.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019 1:00 am

Trump tightens immigration 'loopholes'

Tells officers to be skeptical in interviews

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has sent new guidelines to asylum officers directing them to take a more skeptical and confrontational approach during interviews with migrants seeking refuge in the United States. It is the latest measure aimed at tightening the nation's legal “loopholes” Homeland Security officials blame for a spike in border crossings.

According to internal documents and staff emails obtained Tuesday by the Washington Post, the asylum officers will more aggressively challenge applicants whose claims of persecution contain discrepancies, and they will need to provide detailed justifications before concluding an applicant has a well-founded fear of harm if deported.

The changes require officers to zero in on any gaps between what migrants say to U.S. border agents after they are taken into custody and testimony they provide during the interview process.

“Officers conducting credible fear interviews should also be addressing any more detailed inconsistencies between the applicant's testimony during the credible fear interview and other testimony in sworn statement,” John Lafferty, the head of the asylum division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote to staff in an email, outlining the changes.

The new guidelines and directive to asylum officers are among the most significant steps the administration has taken to limit access to the country for foreigners seeking asylum, whose right to apply for humanitarian protection is protected by U.S. law and rooted in post-World War II international treaties granting refuge to those fleeing persecution.

The changes appear to signal the administration wants to turn away asylum seekers earlier in the legal process, aiming to cut down on applicants who enter the court system and to deter others from attempting to cross into the United States to seek asylum.

Tighter control over asylum claims would fit into a broader White House effort to control the parameters of legal immigration. White House officials met with Republican members of Congress on Tuesday as they draft a proposal that would base the immigration system largely on an immigrant's ability to contribute to the economy.

The Trump administration already has set lower limits on refugees, is cracking down on visa overstays and has alleged that many asylum seekers crossing the southern border are frauds.

With a record number of Central American families arriving at the border and swamping U.S. courts with asylum claims, President Donald Trump has repeatedly scoffed at the protections and has told crowds that dangerous criminals are using it to game the system and stay in the United States.

“The asylum program is a scam,” Trump said last month in a speech. “Some of the roughest people you've ever seen, people that look like they should be fighting for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) ... you look at this guy you say 'Wow, that's a tough cookie!'”

One asylum officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said the changes are “huge” and would make the screening process more time-consuming by requiring officers to provide detailed written analysis before referring an applicant to the courts.