Immigration Law

Is USCIS Hiding Asylum Training Materials?

Francie Diep, Pacific Standard, June 7, 2019

"It used to be that, to help refugees prepare to meet with a government officer who will decide whether they qualify for asylum, immigration lawyers would look up the documents that the government used to train that asylum officer. The documents typically outline international obligations that the United States has to protect those who fear persecution in their home countries. They describe what officers should look for—details that aren't specified in the law.

Then, sometime in the spring of 2017, the links for all of those lesson plans vanished from their usual page on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' website. The documents' disappearance led to uproar, confusion, and distrust among immigration advocates that last to this day—even though, as a USCIS spokesman says, the lesson plans that the lawyers want are actually all available on USCIS.gov.

... A new cache of emails, obtained by the Sunlight Foundation, a government-transparency advocacy group, suggest some reluctance to make USCIS resources public. In them, top officials from the USCIS's asylum training division discuss removing officer lesson plans from the website, in April of 2017. One staffer replies, double-checking whether the material should be deleted or archived—in other words, searchable on USCIS.gov, but flagged as outdated. Asylum head John L. Lafferty confirms he wants the old plans gone.

"I would prefer that the items be deleted completely, rather than archived," Lafferty writes on April 5th, 2017. He also writes that he "fully anticipate[s]" that members of the public would so frequently request to see the old training materials that the agency would eventually be legally compelled to put them up in the Electronic Reading Room.

"This is outrageous," says Matthew Hoppock, an immigration lawyer with a private practice in Kansas. Lafferty's statement about expecting to have to post the documents again "basically concedes this is material that should have been transferred to the National Archives, not deleted," Hoppock says."