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In U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody, asylum seekers are detained in horribly cold and overcrowded facilities, unable to sleep, without access to food, water, or adequate medical care, and without access to an attorney.

Under two new government processes—the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP)—people seeking asylum must go through an initial screening during their time in CBP custody. But these conditions make it insurmountably more difficult to do so. This is especially concerning given the stakes. This screening determines whether a person will be able to pursue their asylum claims before an immigration judge or be immediately deported.

Last week, the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) filed an amicus brief—or “friend of the court” brief—in support of litigation challenging the new government policy implementing these processes.

When subject to PACR or HARP, asylum seekers are held in CBP facilities for the duration of the initial screening, known as the credible fear process. This process can last many days. However, these facilities, commonly known as “hieleras”—the Spanish word for “iceboxes” or “freezers”—are not intended for long-term detention.

The amicus brief highlights evidence obtained by the Council in litigation challenging the constitutionality of these inhumane conditions in the same kind of facilities in U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector.

This evidence includes testimony from former detainees who described the impact of the conditions on their well-being during the detention. Being subject to PACR or HARP may cause asylum seekers to abandon the credible fear process. Sleep deprivation, inadequate food and water, and poor or nonexistent medical care have been shown to interfere with an individual’s reasoning.

These facilities also are not designed to allow clients to contact or communicate with their attorneys.  But asylum seekers have a right to access and consult with counsel before their initial screening interviews. Experiences provided by AILA members demonstrate that attorneys and clients are cut off from each other during the initial asylum screening process under PACR and HARP.

The case, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center v. Wolf, was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and the ACLU of the District of Columbia in federal court in DC.

The Council and AILA call on the courts to stop the PACR and HARP programs in the amicus brief. Asylum seekers must be treated with dignity and allowed to meaningfully participate in the credible fear process. This is simply not possible under PACR and HARP.

ImmigrationImpact.com is a project of the American Immigration Council.