Migrants in Tijuana excited about ‘expedited asylum’ but shelter operator worries most will get rejected

A woman walks by the Agape migrant shelter in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on May 16, 2022. (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — A few months ago the Department of Homeland Security opened a large tent facility in Otay Mesa to process and house up to 500 migrants temporarily.

It is yet to be determined whether this center will be part of an expedited screening pilot program the Department of Homeland Security is said to be unveiling.

This DHS plan is similar to an idea proposed by President Donald Trump, except this time, screenings will reportedly be conducted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees instead of Border Patrol agents.

According to the Associated Press, migrants who enter the United States illegally will be screened by asylum officers and given access to legal counsel, all done within 72 hours.

The AP goes on to say the interviews will be conducted in large U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facilities and will be “stocked with phone lines that will be used for the hearings.”

But who will provide legal the representation remains a mystery.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the American Immigration Council, told Border Report that lawyers have never been allowed inside CBP facilities and wanted to know if DHS is going to change those rules to ensure asylum-seekers receive proper representation.

Inquiries about the legal representation and other elements within the program have been made to DHS, but the agency has yet to address specifics, sending out the following statement:

 “As part of ongoing preparation efforts for the end of the CDC’s Title 42 public health Order, DHS will work with legal service providers to provide access to legal services for individuals who receive credible fear interviews in CBP custody. This is part of a planning effort underway to initiate a process that would allow migrants to receive credible fear interviews from specially trained U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers while still in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. CBP agents and officers will not conduct these interviews. The process is designed to ensure that migrants have the ability to contact legal service providers. Should it be necessary to expand capacity for credible fear interviews beyond already conducted by USCIS officers for noncitizens in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), learnings from these efforts will inform best practices. 

“This Administration will continue to look at every tool available to make asylum processing more efficient, while upholding due process and other protections, as Congress refuses to act to fix our decades-old broken immigration system.” 

At the AGAPE Shelter in Tijuana, migrants are said to be “excited” with the possibility of getting to the U.S. much faster under this new proposal.

“All the migrants want expedited asylum,” said Pastor Albert Rivera who runs the shelter. “But they have to know statistics show 80 percent of asylum cases are lost due to lack of evidence or credibility, this is no guarantee.”

The way the system works now, when a migrant is given the opportunity to ask for asylum, it takes about four weeks to conduct a screening interview while the migrant is in custody.

If the case is deemed valid, migrants are given a court date and are sent to live with family or sponsors throughout the U.S. while their court case shapes up.

But if someone fails to make a credible case, they are sent to Mexico or back to their countries of origin.

“We still recommend the CBP One application as a way to secure an asylum interview,” said Pastor Rivera. “The system is working better now, migrants need to be patient.”

Rivera worries migrants will jump the gun, especially with news accounts on Spanish-language television that the new program was starting on April 10, something DHS has yet to confirm.

“Migrants are hearing this is happening and they’re all going to rush to the border, especially those who are frustrated because they haven’t secured appointments on CBP One.”

According to Rivera, he is telling migrants at his shelter not to go to the border on their own or with smugglers and believes this “expedited asylum,” if true, is going to set up a lot of migrants for failure.

“Even if they get in and get the interview, they won’t be prepared,” said Rivera. “They could be really good actors and convince someone doing the screening, but down the line the judge is going to want real evidence and documentation, if they don’t have it they will lose their case … we are helping them get all their information, evidence and proof so they can show they are worthy of asylum.”

Border Report

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