McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Immigration lawyers will not be allowed into facilities where the Department of Homeland Security has begun using an expedited migrant processing pilot program, a South Texas congressman told Border Report on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from the border town of Laredo, confirmed that U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services asylum officers have begun administering credible fear interviews to asylum-seeking migrants at some U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities, though he couldn’t specify which ones.
The expedited asylum screenings are a change from the previous policy, in which credible fear interviews were conducted in long-term Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, and not within the typical 72-hour period that CBP processes migrants caught illegally entering the United States between ports of entry.
“It is to make sure that if somebody comes to the U.S., and is encountered by Border Patrol that instead of Border Patrol doing that credible fear interview, it will be done by a asylum officer. If the asylum officer finds out or determines that there is no credible fear, then that person can either appeal to a immigration judge or if not be returned to their country of origin,” said Cuellar, ranking member of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.
This change is being implemented to expedite screenings in anticipation of a surge of migrants that is expected at the U.S.-Mexico border when Title 42 lifts next month. Title 42 is the pandemic-era health order that since 2020 has prevented migrants from claiming asylum at the border.
Cuellar says the new screening process is taking place in CBP processing facilities. He says DHS officials will try to screen migrants within three days but said “if the system is overwhelmed, then it may be a little longer.”
DHS officials are anticipating up to 13,000 migrants per day will try to cross the border from Mexico into the United States when Title 42 lifts on May 11.
Migrants put in expedited screening will be allowed to make phone calls to lawyers, and to seek legal advice. But lawyers are not allowed in CBP facilities, Cuellar said.
CBP facilities have never allowed lawyers inside, and altering that policy would be a major change, he said.
Cuellar said he hopes Zoom interviews with attorneys will be allowed in the future, but that is something that is currently in discussions with DHS.
“We will try to improve the process as much as we can, and at the same time, try to find that balance, because what we want to have at the border is to have law and order. But at the same time, respect the rights of folks that want to ask the asylum-seekers so they can have the rights address. So we’re trying to find that balance. But at the same time try to do this in a expedited, but still protect their process,” Cuellar said.
Advocates who offer legal aid to migrants earlier this week told Border Report they were concerned that the credible fear interviews would be rushed and that asylum-seeking migrants would not be afforded legal representation.
“ICE has protocols and procedures that are designed to allow attorneys to have meaningful access to their clients or potential clients. ICE isn’t perfect, but they are designed for this type of detention and for these interviews. CBP is different,” Priscilla Orta, supervising attorney for the South Texas-based Lawyers for Good Government’s Project Corazon, told Border Report.
DHS officials have refused to say which Border Patrol sectors and CBP processing facilities will use expedited screening.
This story will be updated if additional information is received.