News & Resources

Press Release: Judge Declares Unlawful and Vacates Government’s Asylum Seeker “Credible Fear” Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                   

November 2, 2020


Henrike Dessaules, IRAP, 516.838.1269,
Lucia Allain, RAICES,


(Washington, D.C.) – On Saturday, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of several asylum seekers who challenged new policies imposed by the Trump Administration that drastically changed the “credible fear” assessment that asylum officers use to determine whether asylum seekers have a credible fear of persecution if returned to their home country. 

The lawsuit, filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in June 2019, argued that these new policies, contained in lesson plans instructing asylum officers on how to screen asylum seekers, intentionally made it far more difficult for asylum seekers to pass these “credible fear interviews.” As a consequence, many asylum seekers have been deported to life-threatening conditions, in contravention of international and U.S. law. 

In her opinion, Judge Brown Jackson agreed, holding that the lesson plan “places burdens on credible fear interviewees that extend far beyond the reasonable boundaries of Congress’s policy choices as reflected in the governing law.”

According to Saturday’s order, the “credible fear” lesson plans are vacated in their entirety  and the government must bring back at government expense the two named plaintiffs who had been deported before the case was filed so that they can be rescreened under lawful standards.

In response to the ruling, one of the named plaintiffs, “Julia,” said: “I feel very happy with the decision that was taken and I am immensely thankful to the lawyers of RAICES and IRAP for their readiness to continue with this process that has been a bit long, but in the end it has been worth it. I am emotional about the opportunity that this is giving me.”

Justin Cox, Senior Supervising Attorney in IRAP’s Litigation Department, said: “We are thrilled that the Court agreed that the new credible fear screening guidelines unlawfully undermine the credible fear process, which asylum seekers have a right to access under federal and international law. Asylum seekers deserve better than what this Administration has provided, and so do asylum officers, who must make life and death decisions on the basis of the Lesson Plan about who has a credible fear of persecution. Importantly, in addition to our plaintiffs, this ruling also prohibits the government from applying the unlawful policies to any other asylum seekers in the future.” 

Manoj Govindaiah, Director of Litigation at RAICES, said: “The Court’s decision prevents yet another attempt by the Administration to stack the deck against asylum seekers. In striking down the unlawful lesson plan in its entirety, the Court upheld the cherished principles that support our country’s asylum system and ensured that all asylum seekers get a fair chance to have their claims heard. Our brave plaintiffs will finally have an opportunity to have their fears of persecution assessed under the correct standard envisioned by Congress many years ago. ”

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), Center for Gender and Refugee Studies (CGRS), and American Gateways are serving as Consulting Counsel to this litigation. 

To view the opinion, click here.