Of 401 migrants detained by agents of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents between April 4 and June 6, 374 passed a credible fear interview, according to official figures provided to Univision by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Although the overall credible fear detection rate for fiscal year 2018 was 76%, according to official figures, in the case of the period between April and May when the caravan reached the border, that rate reached 93%. The U.S. fiscal year starts on October 1 and ends on September 30 of the following year.
USCIS clarifies, however, that "credible fear totals should NOT be confused with the total number of caravaners," as it did not have raw data on the numbers of members of the caravan who were not refered to USCIS for a credible fear interview.
The first caravan, known as the Migrant Viacrucis, was an annual 715-mile march from the city of Tapachula in southern Mexico to the capital, Mexico City, to draw attention to the problems of the countries of the Northern Triangle; El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The origin of the second caravan is less clear, and appears to have been fueled by Honduran politicians seeking to embarass the pro-U.S. government of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
The Trump administration attributed the high rate of approval to current asylum protocols. "The extremely low bar for establishing credible fear is ripe for fraud and abuse," Michael Bars, spokesman for USCIS, told Univision News". "This is because once an individual overcomes this low threshold, the vast majority are then referred to an immigration judge and most are released on a promise to appear for a court date weeks, months, or years down the line, regardless of whether they plan to show up," he added.
The long wait to appear before an immigration judge is due to the logjam of 732,730 accumulated court cases. A credible fear referral does not mean approval of an asylum status, but is rather just the first step in a lenghty process. But it does earn the applicant entry into the United States, as well as temporary work permit while their case is being adjudicated.
"In other words, a credible fear referral doesn’t equal asylum status, but it does earn a free ticket into the U.S., allowing individuals to disappear into the interior to live and work illegally, Bars told Univision in an email.
"The reality is that our asylum system is being exploited by those simply seeking economic opportunity, not those fleeing persecution, exacerbating crisis after crisis at our Southern border and keeping those who truly need asylum in the back of the line," he said. "Congress must act to help fix this persisting abuse of our asylum system by raising the credible fear standard," he added.
What will happen with the new caravan?
Asked how USCIS will handle the new caravan currently making its way north from Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, Bars said "USCIS is committed to adjudicating all petitions fairly, efficiently, and effectively on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under the law.”
But he added; "every means in accordance with current law is on the table to protect the integrity of our immigration system from those seeking to exploit it by bogging it down with meritless or fraudulent claims, and undermine lawful petitioners."
USCIS further warned that after declining in 2017, credible fear numbers increased in 2018 to a level that exceeded the previous historic high for credible fear referrals reached in 2016.
In addition, in April and May, during the registration of the first caravan, USCIS received a total of 11,983 referrals for credible fear interviews of Central Americans (5,483 Hondurans, 4,283 Guatemalans and 2,217 Salvadorans).