The American Civil Liberties Union, coming fresh off a victory over the Trump administration’s family separation policy, is once again filing a lawsuit against the government for deliberately preventing thousands of immigrants from seeking asylum. The complaint, filed on behalf of 12 immigrants from Central American countries, seeks to put a stop to the government’s new screening policies and hopes to persuade the judge that the administration is committing asylum fraud. According to the ACLU, the Department of Homeland Security is manipulating the fast-track removal system, created under President Clinton in 1996, in order to block worthy asylum seekers from getting a full hearing in immigration court. They claim that this change in policy violates numerous laws and statutes, not to mention the separation-of-powers principles outlined in the Constitution.
In order to successfully apply for asylum, migrants have to demonstrate a fear of persecution in their home country based on their inclusion in a certain social category such as race, nationality, or political opinion. Up until recently, victims of domestic violence and related abuse could also claim persecution related to membership “in a particular social group”, meaning their marriage or relationship to their abuser. But in June of this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned a Board of Immigration Appeals court cause that had granted asylum to a Salvadoran woman under this criterion. Attorney General Sessions stated in his opinion that most cases featuring victims of gang and/or domestic violence would no longer be grounds for asylum.
Only a month after Sessions’ ruling, the Justice Department issued new screening policies that placed migrants in fast-track deportation proceedings called “expedited removal”. As a result, a record number of asylum applicants are failing their initial “credible fear” interviews, despite having clear evidence of danger and potential death if they return to their home countries. According to statistics released by Syracuse University, only 14.7 percent of asylum seekers have passed their initial review in 2018 so far. This is a marked drop from approval levels in the second half of 2017, which were nearly twice what they are now. The ACLU, as well as other immigration attorneys and advocates, see this shift as evidence that the Trump administration is trying to reduce the number of people granted asylum by limiting the conditions by which it is granted.
The ACLU has called the Trump administration’s new screening policies “an assault against longstanding elements of U.S. asylum law”, in direct violation of the separation of powers principles in the Constitution. The government is doing so in order to overturn decades of settled asylum law, so that they can set up worthy asylum seekers to fail their credible fear interviews and be deported back to their home countries, where many of them face the all too real prospect of violent harm or even death.