Showdown looms over immigration controls as Trump administration drafts plan to raise asylum bar and speed deportations
Any tightening of immigration rules will upset activists who marched through the streets of Los Angeles at the weekend to oppose an apparent surge in immigration enforcement raids
The Department of Homeland Security has prepared new guidance for immigration agents aimed at speeding up deportations by denying asylum claims earlier in the process.
The new guidelines, contained in a draft memo dated February 17 but not yet sent to field offices, directs agents to only pass on applicants who have a good chance of ultimately getting asylum, but does not give specific criteria for establishing credible fear of persecution if sent home.
The guidance instructs asylum officers to “elicit all relevant information” in determining whether an applicant has a “credible fear” of persecution if returned home, the first obstacle faced by migrants on the US-Mexico border requesting asylum.
Three sources familiar with the drafting of the guidance said the goal of the new instructions is to raise the bar on initial screening. The administration’s plan is to leave wide discretion to asylum officers by allowing them to determine which applications have a “significant possibility” of being approved, the sources said.
In 2015, just 18 per cent of asylum applicants whose cases were ruled on by immigration judges were granted asylum, according to the Justice Department.
A tougher approach to asylum seekers would be an element of President Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on immigration and tighten border security.
The DHS declined to comment, referring questions to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an applicant must demonstrate “a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”.
Immigration lawyers oppose encouraging asylum officers to take a stricter stance on questioning claims and rejecting them.
Any tightening of immigration rules will upset activists who marched through the streets of Los Angeles at the weekend to oppose an apparent surge in immigration enforcement raids and demand local officials take concrete steps to thwart Trump’s “deportation machine”.
David Abud, one of the organisers, said activists want city and county officials to refuse to invest any resources in immigration enforcement. They also want to ensure a new fund to provide legal help to immigrants won’t exclude those with criminal convictions.
“We want the city ... to not just declare Los Angeles a ‘sanctuary city’ – which they have not – but to take these strong, concrete policies,” said Abud, who is from the National Day Labourer Organising Network.
The demonstrators gathered at Pershing Square and spilled into neighbouring streets. Latin music played on loudspeakers as numbers grew from hundreds to more than 1,000. Some vendors sold bacon-wrapped hot dogs or shirts saying “Not My President”.
Many marchers held home-drawn signs. Carmen Bermudez’s sign was honest: “I usually sleep in on Saturdays”.
It was the Mexican immigrant’s first protest. She carried another sign saying: “We gave you guacamole. Have some respect”.
Bermudez said no one in her family is in the country illegally, but she felt she needed to support the immigrant community.
Vanessa Velasquez, 17, and her younger sister flipped hot dogs on carts at the corner of the square. She said her parents, both in the country illegally, arrived from Guatemala 18 years ago.
She said her family has been scared since Trump’s election. Her mother changed the route she drives to work to avoid immigration agents rumoured to be stopping cars. Velasquez is worried her parents will be deported.
“If he does and we stay here, we’re going to be by ourselves,” she said. “It’s not fair how the president is treating people.”
In a declaration on Facebook, organisers of the march wrote that local officials showed “a lack of urgency” in protecting immigrants and argued that Mayor Eric Garcetti had buckled to “empty threats” from the Trump administration to defund sanctuary cities.
Additional reporting by Tribune News Service