There should soon be a whole lot more answers into the secretive, horrifying plan by the previous administration to allow wholly unqualified border agents to decide initial asylum claims. The initiative, schemed by former White House aide and noted white supremacist Stephen Miller, was blocked by a judge but has for years remained secretive.
But “in a victory for government transparency, earlier this month a federal district court ordered the government to release the names of the Border Patrol agents involved in a program to screen asylum seekers through credible fear interviews,” Immigration Impact’s Emma Winger reports.
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Miller had in 2019 sought to shift the power of determining initial claims from trained U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, believing “border agents would be tougher critics of asylum seekers,” NBC News reported at the time.
These are the same agents who have carried out horrific abuses against asylum-seekers and migrants, including ripping apart families at the southern border. These are the same agents who mocked wailing children separated from their parents. These are the same agents who have been sexually assaulting children under their watch. Now Miller wanted them to make asylum decisions too.
During the time the pilot program was in place, it had the effect the noted white supremacist sought. Winger reported in May 2020 that border agents had granted just 35% of all credible fear claims. “Over the same period, traditional asylum officers granted 57% of credible fear claims.”
In court litigation over the program, the previous administration claimed the rushed training that border agents received was comparable to the nine weeks or more of training received by asylum officers. A judge slammed that defense as “poppycock” in blocking the program the following August. But advocates were also forced to sue when that administration refused to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests into the policy.
Under this new court order, the federal government must now “release the names of the Border Patrol agents who participated in the program,” “conduct a more comprehensive search for relevant records,” and “release redacted records or provide more information to justify withholding them,” Immigration Impact said.
The secretive nature of the pilot is par for the course when it comes to CBP. The agency in 2020 blocked Congress from key findings into a racist Facebook group that counted many border agents as members, including withholding the names of officers who participated in the group. CBP blocked findings from Congress despite the fact that two Latina lawmakers, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar, were targeted.
The Biden administration has in recent days finalized a very different asylum plan, speeding up the asylum process for some vulnerable people by USCIS officers to handle cases instead of leaving them solely to immigration judges. New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said he was glad to see the administration “taking innovative measures to address the massive immigration court backlog,” but said changes “must ensure the due process rights of asylum seekers are protected under this new rule.”
CBP is blocking Congress from key findings in probe into racist and violent Facebook group