Unlawful immigration directives issued by Trump appointee Ken Cuccinelli eviscerate protections for asylum seekers fleeing persecution. An asylum seeker’s case for refuge in the United States turns on the effective presentation of their asylum claim at what is called the “credible fear” interview. The outcome of this interview can be the difference between life or death if the immigrant is forced to return to a dangerous homeland.

The administration’s unlawful asylum directives are designed to diminish the likelihood of success for these asylum seekers. The directives rush asylum seekers through their interview and curtail critical protections designed to ensure that they understand their rights and have the opportunity to consult with counsel. Specifically, these anti-immigrant policies strip away legal protections by:

  • Cutting in half, or more, the time for asylum seekers to consult a lawyer and prepare evidence to substantiate their fear of persecution—which can leave them with just a few hours to prepare for their interview, if that.
  • Prohibiting asylum seekers from obtaining a continuance except in extraordinary circumstances, such as being unconscious. Specifically, continuances are no longer granted when additional time is needed to prepare for the interview or overcome language barriers.

The directives—part of the Trump administration’s concerted effort to implement anti-immigrant policies designed to prevent asylum seekers from obtaining refuge in the United States—were first implemented at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, and subsequently at the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas. These detention centers house families and adult women, respectively, and are run by for-profit private prison companies. At both centers, many asylum seekers are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and have experienced severe forms of trauma, including child abuse, rape, incest, domestic violence, and the persecution of their loved ones.

On behalf of RAICES and seven asylum seekers, Democracy Forward, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Proskauer Rose LLP, and RAICES sued the Trump administration to challenge these unlawful immigration directives. The directives violate federal law because they curtail asylum seekers’ statutory rights, were implemented without considering the devastating impact on asylum seekers, were issued without any notice, violate the rights of disabled individuals and violate the First Amendment.

Our lawsuit also asserts that the asylum directives are invalid under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the Appointments Clause of the Constitution because they were issued by Ken Cuccinnelli, who was unlawfully appointed to serve as Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to block Cuccinelli’s confirmation for any position, the Trump administration did an end run around the law with the extraordinary step of creating a new office for Cuccinelli in order to install him as the acting head of USCIS.

Aman George

Legal Policy Director

Former law firm associate working with the policy team to identify high impact legal actions.

Read the Bio

Ben Seel

Counsel & Legal Analyst

Focusing on justice, national security, immigration, and health care issues.

Read the Bio

John Lewis


Litigating challenges to unlawful executive branch activity regarding immigration, civil rights, health care, education, veterans’ affairs, and more.

Read the Bio