Wed | Jul 24, 2019

'Credible fear' for US asylum harder to prove under Trump

Published:Tuesday | July 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM


Patricia Aragon told the United States asylum officer at her recent case assessment that she was fleeing her native Honduras because she had been robbed and raped by a gang member who threatened to kill her and her nine-year-old daughter if she went to the police.

Until recently, the 41-year-old seamstress from San Pedro Sula would have had a good chance of clearing that first hurdle in the asylum process due to a "credible fear" for her safety, but she didn't. The officer said that the Honduran government wasn't to blame for what happened to Aragon and recommended that she not get asylum, meaning that she is likely to be sent home.

"The US has always been characterised as a humanitarian country," Aragon said through tears at Port Isabel, a remote immigration detention centre tucked among livestock and grapefruit groves near Los Fresnos, a town about 15 miles (25 kilometres) from the Mexico border. "My experience has been very difficult."

As part of the Trump administration's broader crackdown on immigration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently tightened the restrictions on the types of cases that can qualify someone for asylum, making it harder for Central Americans who say they are fleeing the threat of gangs, drug smugglers, or domestic violence to pass even the first hurdle for securing US protection.




Immigration lawyers say that has meant that more asylum seekers failing interviews with US Citizenship and Immigration Services to establish credible fear of harm in their home countries. They also say that immigration judges, who work for the Justice Department, are overwhelmingly signing off on those recommendations during appeals, effectively ending what could have been a yearlong asylum process almost before it has begun.

"This is a direct, manipulated attack on the asylum process," said Sofia Casini of the Austin non-profit, Grass-Roots Leadership, which has been working with immigrant women held at the nearby T. Don Hutto detention centre who were separated from their kids under a widely condemned policy that President Donald Trump ended on June 20.

Casini said that of the roughly 35 separated mothers her group worked with, more than a third failed their credible fear interviews, which she said is about twice the failure rate before the new restrictions took effect. Nationally, more than 2,000 immigrant children and parents have yet to be reunited, including Aragon and her daughter, who is being held at a New York children's shelter and whose future is as unclear as her mother's.

In order to qualify for asylum, seekers must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear that they'll be persecuted back home based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions.