American Immigration Council v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et. al.

American Immigration Council v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection et. al., No. 1:19-cv-02965 (D.D.C filed Oct. 2, 2019)

This Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeks to uncover information about the government’s troubling new practice of employing U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officers to screen asylum seekers. The suit, filed on October 2, 2019 on behalf of the American Immigration Council and Tahirih Justice Center, challenges the government’s failure to respond to multiple FOIA requests for records relating to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision to train and utilize CBP officers to conduct asylum screenings known as credible fear interviews (CFIs).

Congress intended that CFIs serve as a safeguard from summary removal. If an asylum seeker passes this initial screening, he or she must be given the opportunity to file an asylum claim before an immigration judge. As threshold screenings, these interviews are not intended to be adversarial but rather function to provide the asylum seeker an opportunity to recount details of their feared persecution in their country of origin. Asylum seekers often describe instances of physical and sexual violence and other trauma to explain why they seek protection in the United States during a CFI. For decades, these interviews have been conducted by a corps of asylum officers employed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), trained specifically to adjudicate asylum claims, including the handling of sensitive matters.

According to reports, DHS has begun to replace trained USCIS asylum officer with officers from CBP—a law enforcement agency with a history of abuse of and misconduct towards asylum seekers—in the credible fear screening process. Despite the significance of this change, there are no publicly available records documenting this shift in functions.

In response to this lawsuit, CBP produced a single document. DHS has produced hundreds of pages of entirely redacted records. USCIS produced thousands of pages, largely consisting of training materials. On June 18, 2021, Plaintiffs filed a brief outlining for the Court why Defendants improperly withheld records under FOIA exemptions and why Defendant CBP failed to conduct an adequate search. Plaintiffs requested that the Court order Defendants to produce the disputed records and order CBP to conduct an adequate search.

Counsel: Emma Winger, American Immigration Council

Contact: Emma Winger, American Immigration Council | 617-505-5375 | ewinger@immcouncil.org