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A credible fear screening is a process, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where someone who is “in expedited removal proceedings and found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture” can “seek asylum before an immigration judge.” An asylum officer is the one who determines if an asylum seeker has “a credible fear of persecution or torture” and if the officer determines that someone does not have credible fear, the individual can ask an immigration judge to make the determination. Eventually, it can be determined that the credible fear claim is valid, but if it is not, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may remove you from the United States.” It is important to note that passing a credible fear interview does not mean that a person is suddenly authorized to be in the country. It just means that the person is put into the immigration court system where the application for asylum can begin. Furthermore, it is also very likely that someone who passes the credible fear process is detained until the court hearing is heard (which could take months or even years), instead of getting parole or a bond hearing.

Although it is not a comprehensive way to determine how many asylum seekers are removed from the U.S. each month, examining the credible fear data from the government can still be informative because it presents an overview of how many people are arriving at ports of entry or at other parts of the border where there are no ports of entry (inland), how many people are being removed immediately and how many who pass a credible fear interview are placed into the immigration court system. USCIS provides quarterly data reports, and recently, it produced the first set of data which contained President Trump’s first months in office. These Fiscal Year 2017 statistics also contain months from the Obama administration, but they do provide an initial first look into credible fear cases under Trump. For the purposes of this analysis, sources for FY 2016, FY 2015 and FY 2014 (which includes topline data for FY 2009 through FY 2013) have also been added.

For a deeper look into the credible fear process and what the terms means, this overview presents basic information.

Total Credible Fear Workload Comparisons

The following charts display the yearly summaries of total credible fear workloads, from Fiscal Year 2014 through Fiscal Year 2017. So far, case receipts for FY 2017 (currently at 50,475) and decisions (49,917) are on track to match or exceed the FY 2016 receipts (94,048) and decisions (92,990). The first four months of FY 2017 (October-January) saw some of the highest monthly number of case receipts and decisions in the past four fiscal years. In addition, the first full month of President Trump’s term in office (February, 2017) saw 6,148 receipts and 8,264 decisions, a higher number than February, 2016. In addition, for the first two full months of Trump’s term (February and March, 2017), 75.3% of decisions led to a fear being established (meaning that immigration court proceedings most likely started), with 11.1% leading to a fear not being established (likely meaning that a person was immediately removed). During FY 2016, that rate was at about 79% for a fear being established and 10.6% for a fear not being established. In FY 2015, the fear established rate was 70% and the fear not established rate was 16.7%. In FY 2014, the fear established rate was 72% and the fear not established rate was 18.2%.

Total Credible Fear (Port of Entry)

When it comes to ports of entry (a subset of the total workload from above), case receipts and decisions for FY 2017 are also following a similar pace than FY 2016. In fact, March of 2017 saw the largest number of case receipts at ports of entry (3,110) of any other month since FY 2014 (the decisions for March 2017 were on par for previous months). The fear established rate for FY 2017 under Trump’s first two full months was 73.2%. The fear not established rate was 11.8%. In FY 2016, the fear established rate was 75% and the fear not established rate was 10.7%. FY 2015 saw a 63.9% fear established rate and a 10.7% fear not established rate, while FY 2014’s fear established rate was 70% and the fear not established rate was 14.1%.

Total Credible Fear (Inland)

Inland cases are another subset of the total workload from the first section. Once again, it appears that the FY 2017 case receipts and decision are currently following the same pace as the FY 2016 receipts and decisions. However, the March 2017 number of receipts is the lowest (3,031) since May 2015 (2,899), and the March decisions number (3,869) is the lowest since August 2015 (3,402). This would suggest that fewer people who are seeking asylum are entering the country through other parts of the border that don’t have ports of entry. The fear established rate for FY 2017 under Trump’s first two full months was 76.4%. The fear not established rate was 10.9%. In FY 2016, the fear established rate was 79.7% and the fear not established rate was 10.3%. FY 2015 had a 72.9% fear established rate and a 16.9% fear not established rate, while FY 2014 had a 72.5% fear established rate and an 18.7% fear not established rate.

Reasonable Fear

Reasonable fear refers to those cases where individuals “express a fear of returning to the country to which you have been ordered removed, ICE must refer your case to an asylum officer who will determine whether you have a reasonable fear of persecution or torture…. “If the asylum officer finds that you have a reasonable fear of persecution or torture, you are given an opportunity to seek withholding of removal or deferral of removal before an IJ [immigration judge].”

When compared to FY 2016, the current receipts for FY 2017 are still on the same pace. In addition, March 2017 had 1,116 receipts, a number higher than any other previous months in FY 2016 and FY 2017. The decisions for March 2017 (902) were in the same range as FY 2016 and FY 2014 (data for FY 2015 is not publicly available). Under Trump’s two full months, the fear established rate was 26.3% and the fear not established rate was 33.2%. FY 2016 had a fear established rate of 32.3% and a fear not established rate of 32.6%. FY 2014 had a fear established rate of 29.2% and a fear not established rate of 25.1%.

Countries of Origin

The data continues to show that the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are the top three countries who have the most credible fear recipients. This is consistent for FY 2017, FY 2016 and FY 2014 (FY 2015 data was not publicly available). Mexico’s credible fear recipients pale in comparison to Central America, and FY 2017 has also seen Haiti as a top country. Conversely, when it comes to reasonable fear recipients, Mexico tops the lists, although the number of recipients is much lower throughout for this category.

FY 2009–2013

The dramatic rise in credible fear cases is recent, as the data from FY 2009 through FY 2013 shows. For example, FY 2009 listed just 5,523 credible fear cases, while FY 2013 had 36,254 cases. FY 2017 cases have already surpassed the FY 2013 numbers. The highest year for credible fear case receipts since FY 2009 was FY 2016’s number of 69,537.

The FY 2017 statistics were released at a time when a new report by Human Rights First alleges than more than 100 individuals seeking asylum were told by Border Patrol agents that the U.S. was no longer taking asylum seekers.