The government’s plan to use U.S. Border Patrol agents to conduct asylum interviews in response to a growing backlog of pending applications is drawing criticism from people who claim agents aren't equipped to handle the delicate cases.
The most recent influx of asylum seekers hoping to get help from the United States is coming from Central America.
Families wait months to talk to asylum officers in the U.S., living on the streets and in shelters of unfamiliar countries in the meantime. These officers are considered experts in the field and many have legal backgrounds.
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But now, some asylum seekers will be presenting their credible fear cases to Border Patrol agents who have completed a five-week training course by U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (CIS) on how to conduct those interviews.
The training will consist of asylum and refugee law, foundational interviewing skills, policy and procedure, mock interviews, legal analysis and decision writing skills development, among other topics.
But immigration activists are critical of the new process.
“It is a conflict of interest because the Border Patrol is charged with defending the border, if you will, and that means keeping people out,” immigration attorney Jan Bejar said.
Credible fear interviews are a delicate process and are usually done by asylum officers, many of which are lawyers with bachelor's degrees and have legal training, according to Bejar.
"People who are applying for asylum are probably the most desperate group of immigrants that are applying for any form of relief,” immigration attorney Jan Bejar said.
A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection called the program a “whole government approach” to addressing the humanitarian crisis at the border.
In an emailed statement, the spokesperson confirmed border patrol agents will be under the supervision of CIS after their training. The final decision on credible fear interviews will come from an asylum officer.
"When an asylum officer has to go and review what a Border Patrol agent did, he is not going to get the full picture," Bejar said.
Earlier this month, immigration courts were facing a backlog of more than 400,000 asylum cases.