Seeking Asylum At The U.S.- Mexico Border

As we have already explained in detail, you can request asylum in the United States if you are already here by completing and filing form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. Whether you will file this application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or an immigration court depends on your particular circumstances. If you are here lawfully, and hold a valid immigration status, you will file the application with USCIS. If you are facing removal (deportation) for any reason, you may request asylum through the immigration court that is hearing your case.

However, many people fleeing from poverty, violence and persecution in their countries also request asylum in the United States when they arrive at official ports of entry on the U.S.- Mexico border. Here’s what usually happens to them.

‘Credible fear’ screening

Existing U.S. immigration policy permits the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to facilitate “expedited removal.” This means it can conduct “rapid deportation” of certain non-citizens discovered near the border, or who come to an official port of entry.

However, various U.S. and foreign laws prohibit authorities from forcing someone to go back to a country where they could be harmed. To ensure that the border officials don’t break these rules, the U.S. government provides screening for asylum seekers facing immediate deportation.

This process begins when someone facing expedited removal tells the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer that:

They have reason to fear being persecuted or tortured
They are scared about returning to their country
They want to request asylum

The CBP official should then refer the matter to an asylum officer who will do the preliminary interview and assessment.

If the person requesting asylum in the United States convinces the officer who does the credible fear interview that he or she has a valid reason for seeking protection, there is a “significant possibility” that he or she can also demonstrate his or her eligibility for asylum or the protection available through the Convention Against Torture. The officer will forward the case to Immigration Court, which will consider the request for asylum.

However, if the officer decides the asylum seeker doesn’t have a valid reason for requesting asylum here, the officer will issue an order for his or her deportation (removal). This is very serious, and scary for the person in need of asylum. However, there is still hope, because he or she can appeal this decision. Specifically, he or she can do so before an immigration judge who will conduct a brief assessment of his or her circumstances. If the immigration judge disagrees with the asylum officer’s decision, the court proceedings will continue and the individual in question can still request asylum. But if the immigration judge agrees with the asylum officer’s decision, the person will be removed (deported) from the United States.

A long wait…

According to media accounts from the summer of 2018, asylum seekers in lines at official border crossings in California, Texas, and Arizona waited for several days, and in some cases, weeks, before they could talk to U.S. immigration officials.

To make matters even worse, once someone has requested asylum at the border, it can take years for an Immigration Court to reach a decision in the case. One reason for this is the sheer number of pending cases in U.S. immigration courts, which hear all matters related to deportation, including defensive applications for asylum.

According to the American Immigration Council, the average wait for people who had immigration court cases and ultimately received some type of — including but not limited to asylum — by March 2018 was more than 1,000 days.

Because the Trump administration does not believe that everyone requesting asylum at official border crossings has a right to stay in the U.S. while their cases are pending, many people are separated from the relatives who came with them and detained while their cases are unresolved. Even if they are not detained, finding work and legal assistance in the United States during this time is also complicated.

To learn more about the various ways to seek asylum in the United States, or for help with any related concerns, such as the detention of a friend or relative who requested asylum at an official port of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border, contact us today.