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Discriminatory Practices in the Central American Asylum Credible Fear Process

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Central America

The American Immigration Council recently issued a special entitled, “Mexican and Central American Asylum and Credible Fear Claims: Background and Context.” This timely report discusses the current rhetoric surrounding the credible fear process and the state of the U.S. asylum system. Specifically, the report examines the legitimacy of credible fear claims based on situations of persecution and violence in Central America and Mexico because of the drug conflict, the gang conflict, and state responses. It further explores some of the challenges and areas of concern associated with the ways in which credible fear interviews are implemented and how potential asylees are treated in detention.

There has been tremendous discussion and momentum surrounding comprehensive immigration reform. Within this discussion, there has been a harsh critique that the current system too easily receives positive credible fear finding, and that people who enter the U.S. are ‘abusing’ the system by making affirmative and defensive claims of asylum. Since 2012, there has been a substantial increase in the overall number of credible fear interviews, with two-thirds of the claims coming from Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans also known as the Northern Triangle of Central America.

The report stresses that the asylum process, including the credible fear process, is full of obstacles, challenges, and hurdles, and is not as easy to ‘abuse’ and ‘manipulate’ as some might suggest. There are numerous areas of concern such as the fact that officers are not consistent in their decision despite case similarities; decisions are completely discretionary.  Additionally, issues of trauma are not addressed for a credible fear interview, and the interpretation of country conditions is not consistent.  For instance, the report includes several examples of families who fled Mexico due to the drug conflict and only some family members were granted credible fear findings while others, despite having had the same experiences, received expedited orders of removal.

The report also discusses the deteriorating conditions in Mexico and the Northern Triangle. Those involved in these conflicts are violent non-state actors such as drug cartels, street gangs, and organized crime syndicates. This type of conflict does not fall neatly within the current asylum framework and it has been challenging to offer legal protection for people who have been victimized and persecuted because of them.

Furthermore, the report includes a discussion of some logistical obstacles that are purposely designed to hinder individuals in the system. First, the bonds to get persons out of detention can be extremely high ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the individual circumstances. Second, individuals can be detained for extremely lengthy periods of time. Third, there is a general lack of awareness about the one year filing deadline for asylum claims. Fourth, there is resistance to find translators with knowledge of indigenous languages. Fourth, there are few resources available for pro-bono or low-cost legal services. And finally, there appears to be hostility on behalf of government agencies towards Mexican and Central American applicants. Each of these obstacles seriously affects the ability to successfully navigate the asylum system.

In order to fully adhere to the goals and the principles of the asylum system it is necessary to treat all applicants fairly, with the same opportunities, and processes. While the conflicts in Central America and Mexico are “non-traditional” and exhibit a new conceptual framework, they are incredibly violent and dangerous, and have resulted in thousands of people fleeing from their homelands. If the U.S. wants to continue to actively support human rights and the opportunity to fairly apply for asylum, everyone must be treated equally and fairly.

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