CBP CFI Production

Thursday, March 19, 2020

In the Spring of 2019, media outlets reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had begun to allow U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) agents to screen individuals seeking asylum in the United States. These screenings—called “credible fear” interviews—mark the first step in the lengthy asylum process and serve as a threshold screening during which asylum seekers explain their fear of persecution. Congress intended this screening to serve as a safeguard to summary removal for asylum seekers.

This was a big change with serious consequences.

For decades, credible fear interviews have been conducted by a corps of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers, trained specifically to determine asylum claims, including the handling of sensitive matters. Beginning in April 2019, however, the government undertook a pilot program in which it replaced experienced USCIS asylum officers with officers from CBP—a law enforcement agency with a history of abuse and misconduct toward asylum seekers.

The American Immigration Council (Council) and Tahirih Justice Center (Tahirih) filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking records in order to understand why the government created this program and how it operates.

The Council and Tahirih have obtained records from DHS, USCIS, and CBP, which reveal something about the limited training these CBP officers have received. But DHS has intentionally withheld hundreds of pages of records that might explain why it has made this unprecedented transfer of responsibility to an agency ill-suited to the task.

CBP Production

CBP has produced a single document—a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between CBP and USCIS signed in July 2019 to facilitate the pilot program. The MOA contemplates that USCIS will train 60 Border Patrol agents to conduct credible fear interviews. CBP claims that this is the only relevant document in its possession.

DocuCloud Link: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6798341-Signed-MOA-by-Morgan-INTC-1647-Redactions-Applied.html

USCIS Productions

USCIS has produced two sets of documents and it reports that it will continue to produce approximately 500 pages per month. The first two productions reveal that CBP officers have not received any formal training on the “reasonable fear” screening standard­—a standard that now applies to virtually all asylum seekers who have passed through a third country to arrive at the southern border. Moreover, while the production names many USCIS officers involved in the supervision and training of these CBP agents, USCIS has hidden the names of all CBP agents.

DocuCloud Link (1st set): https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6798343-1-31-20-USCIS-First-Production.html

DocuCloud Link (2nd set): https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6798344-2-28-20-USCIS-Second-Production.html

DHS Production

DHS has made a single production—601 pages that are entirely blacked out. According to DHS, all 601 pages are exempt from FOIA requirements because they are privileged. Though DHS does not explain why.

DocuCloud Link: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6798345-2-21-20-DHS-First-Production.html

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