McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Ten non-governmental organizations have filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland security asking for an investigation into how asylum officers handle credible fear interviews in the agency’s Houston office.

The organizations, most of which are nonprofits that help migrants and refugees, filed the complaint Thursday with DHS’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. They include:

  • American Gateways
  • Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
  • Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
  • Immigration Equality
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)
  • National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)
  • Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
  • Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)
  • Texas A&M University School of Law – Legal Clinics
  • University of San Francisco – Immigration & Deportation Defense Clinic and Migration Studies Program

The 15-page complaint alleges “severe violations of due process and statutory obligation in the conduct of credible fear interviews” conducted by officials with U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Houston Asylum Office. This includes allegations of failing to provide language interpreters and other resources for vulnerable populations.

Credible fear interviews are given to asylum-seekers by federal officers as a preliminary screening to help determine if their cases warrant presentation before a U.S. immigration court judge.

“While many of the issues we raise have occurred in numerous asylum offices, the Houston Asylum Office has a particularly egregious record of conducting these screenings and we therefore ask that you investigate the Houston Asylum Office’s conduct,” the complaint says.

Equality Plaza is located in downtown Houston where U.S. immigration court hearings are heard. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

The complaint notes at least two dozen examples of “mishandling these critical claims,” according to a statement by the groups.

“People who are running for their lives to escape violence in their home countries deserve to share their story in their own language with someone who will listen and follow the law,” said Edna Yang, co-executive director of American Gateways. “The way the Houston Asylum Office has been mishandling these claims is unlawful and threatens the safety of families that have a right to make their case.”

“Moreover, we are concerned that the Houston Asylum Office routinely denies viable CFIs (credible fear interviews), applying a higher legal standard than the ‘significant possibility’ standard required under the Immigration and Nationality Act,” according to the complaint.

Allegations also include “the denial of access to counsel, lack of legal orientation, difficulties with language access, and biased and deficient individualized fear determinations,” according to the complaint.

The groups also claim that vulnerable populations, such as LGBTQ, are at risk by not putting into place “safeguards” to help those migrants.

Ten NGOs allege in a complaint to DHS that credible fear interviews of migrants are not properly being done in Houston, Texas. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

“The Credible Fear Interview is the only pathway for many people seeking safe haven in the United States. It is critical that DHS carry out the process with integrity to ensure that those fleeing persecution have a chance to be heard and to obtain protection in the United States,” said Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

The formal complaint request was filed after the groups said several NGOs in June sent ICE and the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), which oversee U.S. immigration courts, a letter detailing concerns. But they apparently did not receive a response, according to the complaint.

The June letter accused the Houston office of “systemic due process concerns faced by asylum seekers in detention.”

“There is little doubt that the mishandling of asylum screenings by this office has resulted in both re-traumatization of asylum seekers and mass deprivation of due process. A full investigation must be undertaken and everything should be done to immediately address these rampant violations,” said Mich Gonzalez of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com