The US Department of Homeland security instituted two pilot programs across the southern US border to fast-track asylum seekers. The Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) for Mexican Nationals, and the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) for all other asylum claims. These programs received harsh criticism since their start in October, 2019 because they deprive migrants of legal representation. The changes lean in favor of expedited deportations.
Normally, asylum seekers are taken to an ICE detention facility and held for a maximum of 72 hours. This allows time to for attorneys and other legal advocates to help prepare for a credible fear interview. Such interviews held in-person examine the likelihood the foreign applicant has a credible claim to asylum. Those who pass are transferred to immigration court proceedings where they try and prove they are worthy of a grant of asylum, a process that can take many months.
PACR and HARP Pilot Programs
The new PACR and HARP programs have a strikingly different method that essentially cuts off legal representation. The new pilot programs funnel migrants into CBP facilities, where they reside for 5-7 days, with little or no access to legal representation. An asylum officer conducts a credibility fear interview over the phone. Those deemed “not-credible,” may try and refute this finding over the phone with an immigration judge. If the judge denies, asylum seekers can be deported immediately.
It can be relatively easy for an immigrant to fail a credible fear interview interview, even if they have a valid claim to asylum. Someone sexually assaulted by police may not want to talk about it and so the information remains buried. An attorney can help the foreigner realize the importance of speaking up. The question, “Why did you come to the U.S.?” is very different than the question, “Why did you flee your home country?” Someone fleeing his or her home country due to targeted violence may be coming to the U.S. for a better life. As such, the reason for fleeing the home country is relevant to asylum, not so much why someone came to the U.S.
An in-person interview helps everyone pay attention to the discussion. A phone interview is awkward, especially if the foreigner did not have a telephone in the home country, and where the laws, territory, and language in the U.S. are foreign. Facial expressions can be very revealing. An immigration officer on the telephone would not see body language. An attorney or experienced legal advocate increases the chance of success of a legitimate asylum claim.
Asylum seekers often do not know how important it is to state their case. Asylum is a complicated area of law. An attorney is trained to dig into issues with clients and assess the strengths and weaknesses of claims. The immigrant becomes better able to express herself.
The ACLU and several other organizations are challenging the PACR and HARP programs because they deny the right of legal representation to asylum seekers, which significantly decreases their opportunity to have a meaningful credible fear interview. Both programs are under review for legality.