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Aliens Subject to a Bar on Entry Under Certain Presidential Proclamations; Procedures for Protection Claims

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AGENCY:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security; Executive Office for Immigration Review, Department of Justice.

ACTION:

Interim final rule; request for comment.

SUMMARY:

The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security (“DOJ,” “DHS,” or, collectively, “the Departments”) are adopting an interim final rule governing asylum claims in the context of aliens who are subject to, but contravene, a suspension or limitation on entry into the United States through the southern border with Mexico that is imposed by a presidential proclamation or other presidential order (“a proclamation”) under section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). Pursuant to statutory authority, the Departments are amending their respective existing regulations to provide that aliens subject to such a proclamation concerning the southern border, but who contravene such a proclamation by entering the United States after the effective date of such a proclamation, are ineligible for asylum. The interim rule, if applied to a proclamation suspending the entry of aliens who cross the southern border unlawfully, would bar such aliens from eligibility for asylum and thereby channel inadmissible aliens to ports of entry, where they would be processed in a controlled, orderly, and lawful manner. This rule would apply only prospectively to a proclamation issued after the effective date of this rule. It would not apply to a proclamation that specifically includes an exception for aliens applying for asylum, nor would it apply to aliens subject to a waiver or exception provided by the proclamation. DHS is amending its regulations to specify a screening process for aliens who are subject to this specific bar to asylum eligibility. DOJ is amending its regulations with respect to such aliens. The regulations would ensure that aliens in this category who establish a reasonable fear of persecution or torture could seek withholding of removal under the INA or protection from removal under regulations implementing U.S. obligations under Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”).

DATES:

Effective date: This rule is effective November 9, 2018.

Submission of public comments: Written or electronic comments must be submitted on or before January 8, 2019. Written comments postmarked on or before that date will be considered timely. The electronic Federal Docket Management System will accept comments prior to midnight eastern standard time at the end of that day.

ADDRESSES:

You may submit comments, identified by EOIR Docket No. 18-0501, by one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail: Lauren Alder Reid, Assistant Director, Office of Policy, Executive Office for Immigration Review, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2616, Falls Church, VA 22041. To ensure proper handling, please reference EOIR Docket No. 18-0501 on your correspondence. This mailing address may be used for paper, disk, or CD-ROM submissions.
  • Hand Delivery/Courier: Lauren Alder Reid, Assistant Director, Office of Policy, Executive Office for Immigration Review, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2616, Falls Church, VA 22041, Contact Telephone Number (703) 305-0289 (not a toll-free call).
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Lauren Alder Reid, Assistant Director, Office of Policy, Executive Office for Immigration Review, 5107 Leesburg Pike, Suite 2616, Falls Church, VA 22041, Contact Telephone Number (703) 305-0289 (not a toll-free call).

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Public Participation

Interested persons are invited to participate in this rulemaking by submitting written data, views, or arguments on all aspects of this rule. The Departments also invite comments that relate to the economic or federalism effects that might result from this rule. To provide the most assistance to the Departments, comments should reference a specific portion of the rule; explain the reason for any recommended change; and include data, information, or authority that supports the recommended change.

All comments submitted for this rulemaking should include the agency name and EOIR Docket No. 18-0501. Please note that all comments received are considered part of the public record and made available for public inspection at www.regulations.gov. Such information includes personally identifiable information (such as a person's name, address, or any other data that might personally identify that individual) that the commenter voluntarily submits.

If you want to submit personally identifiable information as part of your comment, but do not want it to be posted online, you must include the phrase “PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION” in the first paragraph of your comment and precisely and prominently identify the information of which you seek redaction.

If you want to submit confidential business information as part of your comment, but do not want it to be posted online, you must include the phrase “CONFIDENTIAL BUSINESS INFORMATION” in the first paragraph of your comment and precisely and prominently identify the confidential business information of which you seek redaction. If a comment has so much confidential business information that it cannot be effectively redacted, all or part of that comment may not be posted on www.regulations.gov. Personally identifiable information and confidential business information provided as set forth above will be placed in the public docket file of DOJ's Executive Office of Immigration Review (“EOIR”), but not posted online. To inspect the public docket file in person, you must make an appointment with EOIR. Please see the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT paragraph above for the contact information specific to this rule.

II. Purpose of This Interim Final Rule

This interim final rule (“interim rule” or “rule”) governs eligibility for asylum and screening procedures for aliens subject to a presidential proclamation or order restricting entry issued pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), or section 215(a)(1) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1185(a)(1), that concerns entry to the United States along the southern border with Mexico and is issued on or after the effective date of this rule. Pursuant to statutory authority, the interim rule renders such aliens ineligible for asylum if they enter the United States after the effective date of Start Printed Page 55935such a proclamation, become subject to the proclamation, and enter the United States in violation of the suspension or limitation of entry established by the proclamation. The interim rule, if applied to a proclamation suspending the entry of aliens who cross the southern border unlawfully, would bar such aliens from eligibility for asylum and thereby channel inadmissible aliens to ports of entry, where such aliens could seek to enter and would be processed in an orderly and controlled manner. Aliens who enter prior to the effective date of an applicable proclamation will not be subject to this asylum eligibility bar unless they depart and reenter while the proclamation remains in effect. Aliens also will not be subject to this eligibility bar if they fall within an exception or waiver within the proclamation that makes the suspension or limitation of entry in the proclamation inapplicable to them, or if the proclamation provides that it does not affect eligibility for asylum.

As discussed further below, asylum is a discretionary immigration benefit. In general, aliens may apply for asylum if they are physically present or arrive in the United States, irrespective of their status and irrespective of whether or not they arrive at a port of entry, as provided in section 208(a) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158(a). Congress, however, provided that certain categories of aliens could not receive asylum and further delegated to the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security (“Secretary”) the authority to promulgate regulations establishing additional bars on eligibility that are consistent with the asylum statute and “any other conditions or limitations on the consideration of an application for asylum” that are consistent with the INA. See INA 208(b)(2)(C), (d)(5)(B), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C), (d)(5)(B).

In the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 (“IIRIRA”), Public Law 104-208, Congress, concerned with rampant delays in proceedings to remove illegal aliens, created expedited procedures for removing inadmissible aliens, and authorized the extension of such procedures to aliens who entered illegally and were apprehended within two years of their entry. See generally INA 235(b), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b). Those procedures were aimed at facilitating the swift removal of inadmissible aliens, including those who had entered illegally, while also expeditiously resolving any asylum claims. For instance, Congress provided that any alien who asserted a fear of persecution would appear before an asylum officer, and that any alien who is determined to have established a “credible fear”—meaning a “significant possibility . . . that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum” under the asylum statute—would be detained for further consideration of an asylum claim. See INA 235(b)(1), (b)(1)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1), (b)(1)(B)(v).

When the expedited procedures were first implemented approximately two decades ago, relatively few aliens within those proceedings asserted an intent to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution. Rather, most aliens found inadmissible at the southern border were single adults who were immediately repatriated to Mexico. Thus, while the overall number of illegal aliens apprehended was far higher than it is today (around 1.6 million in 2000), aliens could be processed and removed more quickly, without requiring detention or lengthy court proceedings.

In recent years, the United States has seen a large increase in the number and proportion of inadmissible aliens subject to expedited removal who assert an intent to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution during that process and are subsequently placed into removal proceedings in immigration court. Most of those aliens unlawfully enter the country between ports of entry along the southern border. Over the past decade, the overall percentage of aliens subject to expedited removal and referred, as part of the initial screening process, for a credible-fear interview jumped from approximately 5% to above 40%, and the total number of credible-fear referrals for interviews increased from about 5,000 a year in Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2008 to about 97,000 in FY 2018. Furthermore, the percentage of cases in which asylum officers found that the alien had established a credible fear—leading to the alien's placement in full immigration proceedings under section 240 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1229a—has also increased in recent years. In FY 2008, when asylum officers resolved a referred case with a credible-fear determination, they made a positive finding about 77% of the time. That percentage rose to 80% by FY 2014. In FY 2018, that percentage of positive credible-fear determinations has climbed to about 89% of all cases. After this initial screening process, however, significant proportions of aliens who receive a positive credible-fear determination never file an application for asylum or are ordered removed in absentia. In FY 2018, a total of about 6,000 aliens who passed through credible-fear screening (17% of all completed cases, 27% of all completed cases in which an asylum application was filed, and about 36% of cases where the asylum claim was adjudicated on the merits) established that they should be granted asylum.

Apprehending and processing this growing number of aliens who cross illegally into the United States and invoke asylum procedures thus consumes an ever increasing amount of resources of DHS, which must surveil, apprehend, and process the aliens who enter the country. Congress has also required DHS to detain all aliens during the pendency of their credible-fear proceedings, which can take days or weeks. And DOJ must also dedicate substantial resources: Its immigration judges adjudicate aliens' claims, and its officials are responsible for prosecuting and maintaining custody over those who violate the criminal law. The strains on the Departments are particularly acute with respect to the rising numbers of family units, who generally cannot be detained if they are found to have a credible fear, due to a combination of resource constraints and the manner in which the terms of the Settlement Agreement in Flores v. Reno have been interpreted by courts. See Stipulated Settlement Agreement, Flores v. Reno, No. 85-cv-4544 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 17, 1997).

In recent weeks, United States officials have each day encountered an average of approximately 2,000 inadmissible aliens at the southern border. At the same time, large caravans of thousands of aliens, primarily from Central America, are attempting to make their way to the United States, with the apparent intent of seeking asylum after entering the United States unlawfully or without proper documentation. Central American nationals represent a majority of aliens who enter the United States unlawfully, and are also disproportionately likely to choose to enter illegally between ports of entry rather than presenting themselves at a port of entry. As discussed below, aliens who enter unlawfully between ports of entry along the southern border, as opposed to at a port of entry, pose a greater strain on DHS's already stretched detention and processing resources and also engage in conduct that seriously endangers themselves, any children traveling with them, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) agents who seek to apprehend them.

The United States has been engaged in sustained diplomatic negotiations with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala) regarding the situation on the southern border, but those negotiations have, to date, proved Start Printed Page 55936unable to meaningfully improve the situation.

The purpose of this rule is to limit aliens' eligibility for asylum if they enter in contravention of a proclamation suspending or restricting their entry along the southern border. Such aliens would contravene a measure that the President has determined to be in the national interest. For instance, a proclamation restricting the entry of inadmissible aliens who enter unlawfully between ports of entry would reflect a determination that this particular category of aliens necessitates a response that would supplement existing prohibitions on entry for all inadmissible aliens. Such a proclamation would encourage such aliens to seek admission and indicate an intention to apply for asylum at ports of entry. Aliens who enter in violation of that proclamation would not be eligible for asylum. They would, however, remain eligible for statutory withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3), or for protections under the regulations issued under the authority of the implementing legislation regarding Article 3 of the CAT.

The Departments anticipate that a large number of aliens who would be subject to a proclamation-based ineligibility bar would be subject to expedited-removal proceedings. Accordingly, this rule ensures that asylum officers and immigration judges account for such aliens' ineligibility for asylum within the expedited-removal process, so that aliens subject to such a bar will be processed swiftly. Furthermore, the rule continues to afford protection from removal for individuals who establish that they are more likely than not to be persecuted or tortured in the country of removal. Aliens rendered ineligible for asylum by this interim rule and who are referred for an interview in the expedited-removal process are still eligible to seek withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3), or protections under the regulations issued under the authority of the implementing legislation regarding Article 3 of the CAT. Such aliens could pursue such claims in proceedings before an immigration judge under section 240 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1229a, if they establish a reasonable fear of persecution or torture.

III. Background

A. Joint Interim Rule

The Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security publish this joint interim rule pursuant to their respective authorities concerning asylum determinations.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296, as amended, transferred many functions related to the execution of federal immigration law to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. The Homeland Security Act of 2002 charges the Secretary “with the administration and enforcement of this chapter and all other laws relating to the immigration and naturalization of aliens,” 8 U.S.C. 1103(a)(1), and grants the Secretary the power to take all actions “necessary for carrying out” the provisions of the INA, id. 1103(a)(3). The Homeland Security Act of 2002 also transferred to DHS some responsibility for affirmative asylum applications, i.e., applications for asylum made outside the removal context. See 6 U.S.C. 271(b)(3). Those authorities have been delegated to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”). USCIS asylum officers determine in the first instance whether an alien's affirmative asylum application should be granted. See 8 CFR 208.9.

But the Homeland Security Act of 2002 retained authority over certain individual immigration adjudications (including those related to defensive asylum applications) in DOJ, under the Executive Office for Immigration Review (“EOIR”) and subject to the direction and regulation of the Attorney General. See 6 U.S.C. 521; 8 U.S.C. 1103(g). Thus, immigration judges within DOJ continue to adjudicate all asylum applications made by aliens during the removal process (defensive asylum applications), and they also review affirmative asylum applications referred by USCIS to the immigration court. See INA 101(b)(4), 8 U.S.C. 1101(b)(4); 8 CFR 1208.2; Dhakal v. Sessions, 895 F.3d 532, 536-37 (7th Cir. 2018) (describing affirmative and defensive asylum processes). The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA” or “Board”), also within DOJ, in turn hears appeals from immigration judges' decisions. 8 CFR 1003.1. In addition, the INA provides “[t]hat determination and ruling by the Attorney General with respect to all questions of law shall be controlling.” INA 103(a)(1), 8 U.S.C. 1103(a)(1). This broad division of functions and authorities informs the background of this interim rule.

B. Legal Framework for Asylum

Asylum is a form of discretionary relief under section 208 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158, that precludes an alien from being subject to removal, creates a path to lawful permanent resident status and citizenship, and affords a variety of other benefits, such as allowing certain alien family members to obtain lawful immigration status derivatively. See R-S-C v. Sessions, 869 F.3d 1176, 1180 (10th Cir. 2017); see also, e.g., INA 208(c)(1)(A), (C), 8 U.S.C. 1158(c)(1)(A), (C) (asylees cannot be removed and can travel abroad with prior consent); INA 208(b)(3), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(3) (allowing derivative asylum for asylee's spouse and unmarried children); INA 209(b), 8 U.S.C. 1159(b) (allowing the Attorney General or Secretary to adjust the status of an asylee to that of a lawful permanent resident); INA 316(a), 8 U.S.C. 1427(a) (describing requirements for naturalization of lawful permanent residents). Aliens who are granted asylum are authorized to work in the United States and may receive certain financial assistance from the federal government. See INA 208(c)(1)(B), (d)(2), 8 U.S.C. 1158(c)(1)(B), (d)(2); 8 U.S.C. 1612(a)(2)(A), (b)(2)(A); 8 U.S.C. 1613(b)(1); 8 CFR 274a.12(a)(5); see also 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(8) (providing that asylum applicants may seek employment authorization 150 days after filing a complete application for asylum).

Aliens applying for asylum must establish that they meet the definition of a “refugee,” that they are not subject to a bar to the granting of asylum, and that they merit a favorable exercise of discretion. INA 208(b)(1), 240(c)(4)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(1), 1229a(c)(4)(A); see Moncrieffe v. Holder, 569 U.S. 184, 187 (2013) (describing asylum as a form of “discretionary relief from removal”); Delgado v. Mukasey, 508 F.3d 702, 705 (2d Cir. 2007) (“Asylum is a discretionary form of relief . . . . Once an applicant has established eligibility . . . it remains within the Attorney General's discretion to deny asylum.”). Because asylum is a discretionary form of relief from removal, the alien bears the burden of showing both eligibility for asylum and why the Attorney General or Secretary should exercise discretion to grant relief. See INA 208(b)(1), 240(c)(4)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(1), 1229a(c)(4)(A); Romilus v. Ashcroft, 385 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2004).

Section 208 of the INA provides that, in order to apply for asylum, an applicant must be “physically present” or “arriv[e]” in the United States, “whether or not at a designated port of arrival” and “irrespective of such alien's status”—but the applicant must also “apply for asylum in accordance with” the rest of section 208 or with the expedited-removal process in section 235 of the INA. INA 208(a)(1), 8 U.S.C. 1158(a)(1). Furthermore, to be granted asylum, the alien must demonstrate that he or she meets the statutory definition Start Printed Page 55937of a “refugee,” INA 208(b)(1)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(1)(A), and is not subject to an exception or bar, INA 208(b)(2), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2). The alien bears the burden of proof to establish that he or she meets these criteria. INA 208(b)(1)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(1)(B)(i); 8 CFR 1240.8(d).

For an alien to establish that he or she is a “refugee,” the alien generally must be someone who is outside of his or her country of nationality and “is unable or unwilling to return to . . . that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” INA 101(a)(42)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(A).

In addition, if evidence indicates that one or more of the grounds for mandatory denial may apply, an alien must show that he or she does not fit within one of the statutory bars to granting asylum and is not subject to any “additional limitations and conditions . . . under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum” established by a regulation that is “consistent with” section 208 of the INA. INA 208(b)(2)(C), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C); see 8 CFR 1240.8(d). The INA currently bars a grant of asylum to any alien: (1) Who “ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of” a protected ground; (2) who, “having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of the United States”; (3) for whom there are serious reasons to believe the alien “has committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States” prior to arrival in the United States; (4) for whom “there are reasonable grounds for regarding the alien as a danger to the security of the United States”; (5) who is described in the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds, with limited exceptions; or (6) who “was firmly resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States.” INA 208(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vi), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vi).

An alien who falls within any of those bars is subject to mandatory denial of asylum. Where there is evidence that “one or more of the grounds for mandatory denial of the application for relief may apply,” the applicant in immigration court proceedings bears the burden of establishing that the bar at issue does not apply. 8 CFR 1240.8(d); see also, e.g., Rendon v. Mukasey, 520 F.3d 967, 973 (9th Cir. 2008) (applying 8 CFR 1240.8(d) in the context of the aggravated felony bar to asylum); Gao v. U.S. Att'y Gen., 500 F.3d 93, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (applying 8 CFR 1240.8(d) in the context of the persecutor bar); Chen v. U.S. Att'y Gen., 513 F.3d 1255, 1257 (11th Cir. 2008) (same).

Because asylum is a discretionary benefit, aliens who are eligible for asylum are not automatically entitled to it. After demonstrating eligibility, aliens must further meet their burden of showing that the Attorney General or Secretary should exercise his or her discretion to grant asylum. See INA 208(b)(1)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(1)(A) (the “Secretary of Homeland Security or the Attorney General may grant asylum to an alien” who applies in accordance with the required procedures and meets the definition of a “refugee”). The asylum statute's grant of discretion “is a broad delegation of power, which restricts the Attorney General's discretion to grant asylum only by requiring the Attorney General to first determine that the asylum applicant is a `refugee.'” Komarenko v. INS, 35 F.3d 432, 436 (9th Cir. 1994), overruled on other grounds by Abebe v. Mukasey, 554 F.3d 1203 (9th Cir. 2009) (en banc) (per curiam). Immigration judges and asylum officers exercise that delegated discretion on a case-by-case basis. Under the Board's decision in Matter of Pula, 19 I&N Dec. 467 (BIA 1987), and its progeny, “an alien's manner of entry or attempted entry is a proper and relevant discretionary factor” and “circumvention of orderly refugee procedures” can be a “serious adverse factor” against exercising discretion to grant asylum, id. at 473, but “[t]he danger of persecution will outweigh all but the most egregious adverse factors,” Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357, 367 (BIA 1996).

C. Establishing Bars to Asylum

The availability of asylum has long been qualified both by statutory bars and by administrative discretion to create additional bars. Those bars have developed over time in a back-and-forth process between Congress and the Attorney General. The original asylum provisions, as set out in the Refugee Act of 1980, Public Law 96-212, simply directed the Attorney General to “establish a procedure for an alien physically present in the United States or at a land border or port of entry, irrespective of such alien's status, to apply for asylum, and the alien may be granted asylum in the discretion of the Attorney General if the Attorney General determines that such alien is a refugee” within the meaning of the title. See 8 U.S.C. 1158(a) (1982); see also INS v. Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 427-29 (1987) (describing the 1980 provisions).

In the 1980 implementing regulations, the Attorney General, in his discretion, established several mandatory bars to granting asylum that were modeled on the mandatory bars to eligibility for withholding of deportation under the existing section 243(h) of the INA. See Refugee and Asylum Procedures, 45 FR 37392, 37392 (June 2, 1980) (“The application will be denied if the alien does not come within the definition of refugee under the Act, is firmly resettled in a third country, or is within one of the undesirable groups described in section 243(h) of the Act, e.g., having been convicted of a serious crime, constitutes a danger to the United States.”). Those regulations required denial of an asylum application if it was determined that (1) the alien was “not a refugee within the meaning of section 101(a)(42)” of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42); (2) the alien had been “firmly resettled in a foreign country” before arriving in the United States; (3) the alien “ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group, or political opinion”; (4) the alien had “been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime” and therefore constituted “a danger to the community of the United States”; (5) there were “serious reasons for considering that the alien ha[d] committed a serious non-political crime outside the United States prior to the arrival of the alien in the United States”; or (6) there were “reasonable grounds for regarding the alien as a danger to the security of the United States.” See id. at 37394-95.

In 1990, the Attorney General substantially amended the asylum regulations while retaining the mandatory bars for aliens who persecuted others on account of a protected ground, were convicted of a particularly serious crime in the United States, firmly resettled in another country, or presented reasonable grounds to be regarded as a danger to the security of the United States. See Asylum and Withholding of Deportation Procedures, 55 FR 30674, 30683 (July 27, 1990); see also Yang v. INS, 79 F.3d 932, 936-39 (9th Cir. 1996) (upholding firm-resettlement bar); Komarenko, 35 F.3d at 436 (upholding particularly-serious-crime bar). In the Immigration Act of 1990, Public Law 101-649, Congress added an additional mandatory bar to applying for or being granted asylum for “[a]n[y] alien who has been convicted of an aggravated felony.” Public Law 101-649, sec. 515.Start Printed Page 55938

In IIRIRA and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Public Law 104-132, Congress amended the asylum provisions in section 208 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158. Among other amendments, Congress created three exceptions to section 208(a)(1)'s provision that an alien may apply for asylum, for (1) aliens who can be removed to a safe third country pursuant to bilateral or multilateral agreement; (2) aliens who failed to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States; and (3) aliens who have previously applied for asylum and had the application denied. Public Law 104-208, div. C, sec. 604(a); see INA 208(a)(2)(A)-(C), 8 U.S.C. 1158(a)(2)(A)-(C).

Congress also adopted six mandatory exceptions to the authority of the Attorney General or Secretary to grant asylum that largely reflect pre-existing bars set forth in the Attorney General's asylum regulations. These exceptions cover (1) aliens who “ordered, incited, or otherwise participated” in the persecution of others on account of a protected ground; (2) aliens convicted of a “particularly serious crime”; (3) aliens who committed a “serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States” before arriving in the United States; (4) aliens who are a “danger to the security of the United States”; (5) aliens who are inadmissible or removable under a set of specified grounds relating to terrorist activity; and (6) aliens who have “firmly resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States.” Public Law 104-208, div. C, sec. 604(a); see INA 208(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vi), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vi). Congress further added that aggravated felonies, defined in 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43), would be considered “particularly serious crime[s].” Public Law 104-208, div. C, sec. 604(a); see INA 201(a)(43), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43).

Although Congress enacted specific exceptions, that statutory list is not exhaustive. Congress, in IIRIRA, expressly authorized the Attorney General to expand upon two of those exceptions—the bars for “particularly serious crimes” and “serious nonpolitical offenses.” While Congress prescribed that all aggravated felonies constitute particularly serious crimes, Congress further provided that the Attorney General may “designate by regulation offenses that will be considered” a “particularly serious crime” that “constitutes a danger to the community of the United States.” INA 208(b)(2)(A)(ii), (B)(ii), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A)(ii), (B)(ii). Courts and the Board have long held that this grant of authority also authorizes the Board to identify additional particularly serious crimes (beyond aggravated felonies) through case-by-case adjudication. See, e.g., Ali v. Achim, 468 F.3d 462, 468-69 (7th Cir. 2006); Delgado v. Holder, 648 F.3d 1095, 1106 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc). Congress likewise authorized the Attorney General to designate by regulation offenses that constitute “a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States prior to the arrival of the alien in the United States.” INA 208(b)(2)(A)(iii), (B)(ii), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A)(iii), (B)(ii). Although these provisions continue to refer only to the Attorney General, the Departments interpret these provisions to also apply to the Secretary of Homeland Security by operation of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. See 6 U.S.C. 552; 8 U.S.C. 1103(a)(1).

Congress further provided the Attorney General with the authority, by regulation, to “establish additional limitations and conditions, consistent with [section 208 of the INA], under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum under paragraph (1).” INA 208(b)(2)(C), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C). As the Tenth Circuit has recognized, “the statute clearly empowers” the Attorney General to “adopt[] further limitations” on asylum eligibility. R-S-C, 869 F.3d at 1187 & n.9. By allowing the imposition by regulation of “additional limitations and conditions,” the statute gives the Attorney General and the Secretary broad authority in determining what the “limitations and conditions” should be. The additional limitations on eligibility must be established “by regulation,” and must be “consistent with” the rest of section 208 of the INA. INA 208(b)(2)(C), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C).

Thus, the Attorney General in the past has invoked section 208(b)(2)(C) of the INA to limit eligibility for asylum based on a “fundamental change in circumstances” and on the ability of an applicant to safely relocate internally within the alien's country of nationality or of last habitual residence. See Asylum Procedures, 65 FR 76121, 76126 (Dec. 6, 2000). The courts have also viewed section 208(b)(2)(C) as conferring broad discretion, including to render aliens ineligible for asylum based on fraud. See R-S-C, 869 F.3d at 1187; Nijjar v. Holder, 689 F.3d 1077, 1082 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that fraud can be “one of the `additional limitations . . . under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum' that the Attorney General is authorized to establish by regulation”).

Section 208(d)(5) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158(d)(5), also establishes certain procedures for consideration of asylum applications. But Congress specified that the Attorney General “may provide by regulation for any other conditions or limitations on the consideration of an application for asylum,” so long as those limitations are “not inconsistent with this chapter.” INA 208(d)(5)(B), 8 U.S.C. 1158(d)(5)(B).

In sum, the current statutory framework leaves the Attorney General (and, after the Homeland Security Act, the Secretary) significant discretion to adopt additional bars to asylum eligibility. Beyond providing discretion to further define particularly serious crimes and serious nonpolitical offenses, Congress has provided the Attorney General and Secretary with discretion to establish by regulation any additional limitations or conditions on eligibility for asylum or on the consideration of applications for asylum, so long as these limitations are consistent with the asylum statute.

D. Other Forms of Protection

Aliens who are not eligible to apply for or be granted asylum, or who are denied asylum on the basis of the Attorney General's or the Secretary's discretion, may nonetheless qualify for protection from removal under other provisions of the immigration laws. A defensive application for asylum that is submitted by an alien in removal proceedings is also deemed an application for statutory withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3). See 8 CFR 208.30(e)(2)-(4), 1208.3(b), 1208.16(a). An immigration judge may also consider an alien's eligibility for withholding and deferral of removal under regulations issued pursuant to the authority of the implementing legislation regarding Article 3 of the CAT. See Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, Public Law 105-277, div. G, sec. 2242(b); 8 CFR 1208.3(b); see also 8 CFR 1208.16-1208.17.

These forms of protection bar an alien's removal to any country where the alien would “more likely than not” face persecution or torture, meaning that the alien would face a clear probability that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of a protected ground or a clear probability of torture. 8 CFR 1208.16(b)(2), (c)(2); see Kouljinski v. Keisler, 505 F.3d 534, 544-45 (6th Cir. 2007); Sulaiman v. Gonzales, 429 F.3d 347, 351 (1st Cir. 2005). Thus, if an alien proves that it is more likely than not that the alien's life or freedom would be threatened on account of a protected ground, but is denied asylum for some other reason—for instance, because of a statutory exception, an eligibility bar adopted by regulation, or a discretionary denial of asylum—the alien may be entitled to Start Printed Page 55939statutory withholding of removal if not otherwise barred for that form of protection. INA 241(b)(3), 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3); 8 CFR 208.16, 1208.16; see also Garcia v. Sessions, 856 F.3d 27, 40 (1st Cir. 2017) (“[W]ithholding of removal has long been understood to be a mandatory protection that must be given to certain qualifying aliens, while asylum has never been so understood.”). Likewise, an alien who establishes that he or she will more likely than not face torture in the country of removal will qualify for CAT protection. See 8 CFR 208.16(c), 1208.16(c). But, unlike asylum, statutory withholding and CAT protection do not: (1) Prohibit the Government from removing the alien to a third country where the alien would not face the requisite probability of persecution or torture; (2) create a path to lawful permanent resident status and citizenship; or (3) afford the same ancillary benefits (such as protection for derivative family members). See R-S-C, 869 F.3d at 1180.

E. Implementation of Treaty Obligations

The framework described above is consistent with certain U.S. obligations under the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Protocol”), which incorporates Articles 2 to 34 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“Refugee Convention”), as well as U.S. obligations under Article 3 of the CAT. Neither the Refugee Protocol nor the CAT is self-executing in the United States. See Khan v. Holder, 584 F.3d 773, 783 (9th Cir. 2009) (`[T]he [Refugee] Protocol is not self-executing.”); Auguste v. Ridge, 395 F.3d 123, 132 (3d Cir. 2005) (the CAT “was not self-executing”). These treaties are not directly enforceable in U.S. law, but some of the obligations they contain have been implemented through domestic implementing legislation. For example, the United States has implemented the non-refoulement provisions of these treaties—i.e., provisions prohibiting the return of an individual to a country where he or she would face persecution or torture—through the withholding of removal provisions at section 241(b)(3) of the INA and the CAT regulations, not through the asylum provisions at section 208 of the INA. See Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. at 440-41; Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, Public Law 105-277, div. G, sec. 2242(b); 8 CFR 208.16(c), 208.17-208.18; 1208.16(c), 1208.17-1208.18. Limitations on the availability of asylum that do not affect the statutory withholding of removal or protection under the CAT regulations are consistent with these provisions. See R-S-C, 869 F.3d at 1188 & n.11; Cazun v. Att'y Gen., 856 F.3d 249, 257 & n.16 (3d Cir. 2017); Ramirez-Mejia v. Lynch, 813 F.3d 240, 241 (5th Cir. 2016).

Limitations on eligibility for asylum are also consistent with Article 34 of the Refugee Convention, concerning assimilation of refugees, as implemented by section 208 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158. Section 208 of the INA reflects that Article 34 is precatory and not mandatory, and accordingly does not provide that all refugees shall receive asylum. See Cardoza-Fonseca, 480 U.S. at 441; Garcia, 856 F.3d at 42; Cazun, 856 F.3d at 257 & n. 16; Mejia v. Sessions, 866 F.3d 573, 588 (4th Cir. 2017); R-S-C, 869 F.3d at 1188; Ramirez-Mejia, 813 F.3d at 241. As noted above, Congress has long recognized the precatory nature of Article 34 by imposing various statutory exceptions and by authorizing the creation of new bars to asylum eligibility through regulation.

Courts have likewise rejected arguments that other provisions of the Refugee Convention require every refugee to receive asylum. Courts have held, in the context of upholding the bar on eligibility for asylum in reinstatement proceedings under section 241(a)(5) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1231(a)(5), that limiting the ability to apply for asylum does not constitute a prohibited “penalty” under Article 31(1) of the Refugee Convention. Cazun, 856 F.3d at 257 & n.16; Mejia, 866 F.3d at 588. Courts have also rejected the argument that Article 28 of the Refugee Convention, governing the issuance of international travel documents for refugees “lawfully staying” in a country's territory, mandates that every person who might qualify for statutory withholding must also be granted asylum. Garcia, 856 F.3d at 42; R-S-C, 869 F.3d at 1188.

IV. Regulatory Changes

A. Limitation on Eligibility for Asylum for Aliens Who Contravene a Presidential Proclamation Under Section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the INA Concerning the Southern Border

Pursuant to section 208(b)(2)(C) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C), the Departments are revising 8 CFR 208.13(c) and 8 CFR 1208.13(c) to add a new mandatory bar on eligibility for asylum for certain aliens who are subject to a presidential proclamation suspending or imposing limitations on their entry into the United States pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), or section 215(a)(1) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1185(a)(1), and who enter the United States in contravention of such a proclamation after the effective date of this rule. The bar would be subject to several further limitations: (1) The bar would apply only prospectively, to aliens who enter the United States after the effective date of such a proclamation; (2) the proclamation must concern entry at the southern border; and (3) the bar on asylum eligibility would not apply if the proclamation expressly disclaims affecting asylum eligibility for aliens within its scope, or expressly provides for a waiver or exception that entitles the alien to relief from the limitation on entry imposed by the proclamation.

The President has both statutory and inherent constitutional authority to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States when it is in the national interest. See United States ex rel. Knauff v. Shaughnessy, 338 U.S. 537, 542 (1950) (“The exclusion of aliens is a fundamental act of sovereignty” that derives from “legislative power” and also “is inherent in the executive power to control the foreign affairs of the nation.”); see also Proposed Interdiction of Haitian Flag Vessels, 5 Op. O.L.C. 242, 244-45 (1981) (“[T]he sovereignty of the Nation, which is the basis of our ability to exclude all aliens, is lodged in both political branches of the government,” and even without congressional action, the President may “act[ ] to protect the United States from massive illegal immigration.”).

Congress, in the INA, has expressly vested the President with broad authority to restrict the ability of aliens to enter the United States. Section 212(f) states: “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” 8 U.S.C. 1182(f). “By its plain language, [8 U.S.C.] § 1182(f) grants the President broad discretion to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States,” including the authority “to impose additional limitations on entry beyond the grounds for exclusion set forth in the INA.” Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. 2392, 2408−12 (2018). For instance, the Supreme Court considered it “perfectly clear that 8 U.S.C. 1182(f) . . . grants the President ample power to establish a naval blockade that would simply deny illegal Haitian immigrants the ability to disembark on our shores,” thereby preventing them from entering Start Printed Page 55940the United States and applying for asylum. Sale v. Haitian Ctrs. Council, Inc., 509 U.S. 155, 187 (1993).

The President's broad authority under section 212(f) is buttressed by section 215(a)(1), which states it shall be unlawful “for any alien to depart from or enter or attempt to depart from or enter the United States except under such reasonable rules, regulations, and orders, and subject to such limitations and exceptions as the President may prescribe.” 8 U.S.C. 1185(a)(1). The presidential orders that the Supreme Court upheld in Sale were promulgated pursuant to both sections 212(f) and 215(a)(1)—see 509 U.S. at 172 & n.27; see also Exec. Order 12807 (May 24, 1992) (“Interdiction of Illegal Aliens”); Exec. Order 12324 (Sept. 29, 1981) (“Interdiction of Illegal Aliens”) (revoked and replaced by Exec. Order 12807)—as was the proclamation upheld in Trump v. Hawaii, see 138 S. Ct. at 2405. Other presidential orders have solely cited section 215(a)(1) as authority. See, e.g., Exec. Order 12172 (Nov. 26, 1979) (“Delegation of Authority With Respect to Entry of Certain Aliens Into the United States”) (invoking section 215(a)(1) with respect to certain Iranian visa holders).

An alien whose entry is suspended or limited by a proclamation is one whom the President has determined should not enter the United States, or only should do so under certain conditions. Such an order authorizes measures designed to prevent such aliens from arriving in the United States as a result of the President's determination that it would be against the national interest for them to do so. For example, the proclamation and order that the Supreme Court upheld in Sale, Proc. 4865 (Sept. 29, 1981) (“High Seas Interdiction of Illegal Aliens”); Exec. Order 12324, directed the Coast Guard to interdict the boats of tens of thousands of migrants fleeing Haiti to prevent them from reaching U.S. shores, where they could make claims for asylum. The order further authorized the Coast Guard to intercept any vessel believed to be transporting undocumented aliens to the United States, “[t]o make inquiries of those on board, examine documents, and take such actions as are necessary to carry out this order,” and “[t]o return the vessel and its passengers to the country from which it came, or to another country, when there is reason to believe that an offense is being committed against the United States immigration laws.” Exec. Order 12807, sec. 2(c).

An alien whose entry is suspended or restricted under such a proclamation, but who nonetheless reaches U.S. soil contrary to the President's determination that the alien should not be in the United States, would remain subject to various procedures under immigration laws. For instance, an alien subject to a proclamation who nevertheless entered the country in contravention of its terms generally would be placed in expedited-removal proceedings under section 235 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1225, and those proceedings would allow the alien to raise any claims for protection before being removed from the United States, if appropriate. Furthermore, the asylum statute provides that “[a]ny alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival),” and “irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, [8 U.S.C.] 1225(b).” INA 208(a)(1), 8 U.S.C. 1158(a)(1). Some past proclamations have accordingly made clear that aliens subject to an entry bar may still apply for asylum if they have nonetheless entered the United States. See, e.g., Proc. 9645, sec. 6(e) (Sept. 24, 2017) (“Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”) (“Nothing in this proclamation shall be construed to limit the ability of an individual to seek asylum, refugee status, withholding of removal, or protection under the Convention Against Torture, consistent with the laws of the United States.”).

As noted above, however, the asylum statute also authorizes the Attorney General and Secretary “by regulation” to “establish additional limitations and conditions, consistent with [section 208 of the INA], under which an alien shall be ineligible for asylum,” INA 208(b)(2)(C), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C), and to set conditions or limitations on the consideration of an application for asylum, INA 208(d)(5)(B), 8 U.S.C. 1158(d)(5)(B). The Attorney General and the Secretary have determined that this authority should be exercised to render ineligible for a grant of asylum any alien who is subject to a proclamation suspending or restricting entry along the southern border with Mexico, but who nonetheless enters the United States after such a proclamation goes into effect. Such an alien would have engaged in actions that undermine a particularized determination in a proclamation that the President judged as being required by the national interest: That the alien should not enter the United States.

The basis for ineligibility in these circumstances would be the Departments' conclusion that aliens who contravene such proclamations should not be eligible for asylum. Such proclamations generally reflect sensitive determinations regarding foreign relations and national security that Congress recognized should be entrusted to the President. See Trump v. Hawaii, 138 S. Ct. at 2411. Aliens who contravene such a measure have not merely violated the immigration laws, but have also undercut the efficacy of a measure adopted by the President based upon his determination of the national interest in matters that could have significant implications for the foreign affairs of the United States. For instance, previous proclamations were directed solely at Haitian migrants, nearly all of whom were already inadmissible by virtue of other provisions of the INA, but the proclamation suspended entry and authorized further measures to ensure that such migrants did not enter the United States contrary to the President's determination. See, e.g., Proc. 4865; Exec. Order 12807.

In the case of the southern border, a proclamation that suspended the entry of aliens who crossed between the ports of entry would address a pressing national problem concerning the immigration system and our foreign relations with neighboring countries. Even if most of those aliens would already be inadmissible under our laws, the proclamation would impose limitations on entry for the period of the suspension against a particular class of aliens defined by the President. That judgment would reflect a determination that certain illegal entrants—namely, those crossing between the ports of entry on the southern border during the duration of the proclamation—were a source of particular concern to the national interest. Furthermore, such a proclamation could authorize additional measures to prevent the entry of such inadmissible aliens, again reflecting the national concern with this subset of inadmissible aliens. The interim final rule reflects the Departments' judgment that, under the extraordinary circumstances presented here, aliens crossing the southern border in contravention of such a proclamation should not be eligible for a grant of asylum during the period of suspension or limitation on entry. The result would be to channel to ports of entry aliens who seek to enter the United States and assert an intention to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution, and to provide for consideration of those statements there.

Significantly, this bar to eligibility for a grant of asylum would be limited in scope. This bar would apply only prospectively. This bar would further Start Printed Page 55941apply only to a proclamation concerning entry along the southern border, because this interim rule reflects the need to facilitate urgent action to address current conditions at that border. This bar would not apply to any proclamation that expressly disclaimed an effect on eligibility for asylum. And this bar would not affect an applicant who is granted a waiver or is excepted from the suspension under the relevant proclamation, or an alien who did not at any time enter the United States after the effective date of such proclamation.

Aliens who enter in contravention of a proclamation will not, however, overcome the eligibility bar merely because a proclamation has subsequently ceased to have effect. The alien still would have entered notwithstanding a proclamation at the time the alien entered the United States, which would result in ineligibility for asylum (but not for statutory withholding or for CAT protection). Retaining eligibility for asylum for aliens who entered the United States in contravention of the proclamation, but evaded detection until it had ceased, could encourage aliens to take riskier measures to evade detection between ports of entry, and would continue to stretch government resources dedicated to apprehension efforts.

This restriction on eligibility to asylum is consistent with section 208(a)(1) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158(a)(1). The regulation establishes a condition on asylum eligibility, not on the ability to apply for asylum. Compare INA 208(a), 8 U.S.C. 1158(a) (describing conditions for applying for asylum), with INA 208(b), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b) (identifying exceptions and bars to granting asylum). And, as applied to a proclamation that suspends the entry of aliens who crossed between the ports of entry at the southern border, the restriction would not preclude an alien physically present in the United States from being granted asylum if the alien arrives in the United States through any border other than the southern land border with Mexico or at any time other than during the pendency of a proclamation suspending or limiting entry.

B. Screening Procedures in Expedited Removal for Aliens Subject to Proclamations

The rule would also modify certain aspects of the process for screening claims for protection asserted by aliens who have entered in contravention of a proclamation and who are subject to expedited removal under INA 235(b)(1), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1). Under current procedures, aliens who unlawfully enter the United States may avoid being removed on an expedited basis by making a threshold showing of a credible fear of persecution at a initial screening interview. At present, those aliens are often released into the interior of the United States pending adjudication of such claims by an immigration court in section 240 proceedings especially if those aliens travel as family units. Once an alien is released, adjudications can take months or years to complete because of the increasing volume of claims and the need to expedite cases in which aliens have been detained. The Departments expect that a substantial proportion of aliens subject to an entry proclamation concerning the southern border would be subject to expedited removal, since approximately 234,534 aliens in FY 2018 who presented at a port of entry or were apprehended at the border were referred to expedited-removal proceedings.[1] The procedural changes within expedited removal would be confined to aliens who are ineligible for asylum because they are subject to a regulatory bar for contravening an entry proclamation.

1. Under existing law, expedited-removal procedures—streamlined procedures for expeditiously reviewing claims and removing certain aliens—apply to those individuals who arrive at a port of entry or those who have entered illegally and are encountered by an immigration officer within 100 miles of the border and within 14 days of entering. See INA 235(b), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b); Designating Aliens For Expedited Removal, 69 FR 48877, 48880 (Aug. 11, 2004). To be subject to expedited removal, an alien must also be inadmissible under INA 212(a)(6)(C) or (a)(7), 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(C) or (a)(7), meaning that the alien has either tried to procure documentation through misrepresentation or lacks such documentation altogether. Thus, an alien encountered in the interior of the United States who entered in contravention of a proclamation and who is not otherwise amenable to expedited removal would be placed in proceedings under section 240 of the INA. The interim rule does not invite comment on existing regulations implementing the present scope of expedited removal.

Section 235(b)(1) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1), prescribes procedures in the expedited-removal context for screening an alien's eligibility for asylum. When these provisions were being debated in 1996, legislators expressed particular concern that “[e]xisting procedures to deny entry to and to remove illegal aliens from the United States are cumbersome and duplicative,” and that “[t]he asylum system has been abused by those who seek to use it as a means of `backdoor' immigration.” See H.R. Rep. No. 104-469, pt. 1, at 107 (1996). Members of Congress accordingly described the purpose of expedited removal and related procedures as “streamlin[ing] rules and procedures in the Immigration and Nationality Act to make it easier to deny admission to inadmissible aliens and easier to remove deportable aliens from the United States.” Id. at 157; see Am. Immigration Lawyers Ass'n v. Reno, 18 F. Supp. 2d 38, 41 (D.D.C. 1998), aff'd, 199 F.3d 1352 (DC Cir. 2000) (rejecting several constitutional challenges to IIRIRA and describing the expedited-removal process as a “summary removal process for adjudicating the claims of aliens who arrive in the United States without proper documentation”).

Congress thus provided that aliens “inadmissible under [8 U.S.C.] 1182(a)(6)(C) or 1182(a)(7)” shall be “removed from the United States without further hearing or review unless the alien indicates either an intention to apply for asylum under [8 U.S.C. 1158] or a fear of persecution.” INA 235(b)(1)(A)(i), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(i); see INA 235(b)(1)(A)(ii), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(ii) (such aliens shall be referred “for an interview by an asylum officer”). On its face, the statute refers only to proceedings to establish eligibility for an affirmative grant of asylum and its attendant benefits, not to statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection against removal to a particular country.

An alien referred for a credible-fear interview must demonstrate a “credible fear,” defined as a “significant possibility, taking into account the credibility of the statements made by the alien in support of the alien's claim and such other facts as are known to the officer, that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum under [8 U.S.C. 1158].” INA 235(b)(1)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(v). According to the House report, “[t]he credible-fear standard [wa]s designed to weed out non-meritorious cases so that only applicants with a likelihood of success will proceed to the regular asylum process.” H.R. Rep. No. 104-69, at 158.Start Printed Page 55942

If the asylum officer determines that the alien lacks a credible fear, then the alien may request review by an immigration judge. INA 235(b)(1)(B)(iii)(III), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(iii)(III). If the immigration judge concurs with the asylum officer's negative credible-fear determination, then the alien shall be removed from the United States without further review by either the Board or the courts. INA 235(b)(1)(B)(iii)(I), (b)(1)(C), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(iii)(I), (b)(1)(C); INA 242(a)(2)(A)(iii), (e)(5), 8 U.S.C. 1252(a)(2)(A)(iii), (e)(5); Pena v. Lynch, 815 F.3d 452, 457 (9th Cir. 2016). By contrast, if the asylum officer or immigration judge determines that the alien has a credible fear—i.e., “a significant possibility . . . that the alien could establish eligibility for asylum,” INA 235(b)(1)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(v)—then the alien, under current regulations, is placed in section 240 proceedings for a full hearing before an immigration judge, with appeal available to the Board and review in the federal courts of appeals, see INA 235(b)(1)(B)(ii), (b)(2)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(ii), (b)(2)(A); INA 242(a), 8 U.S.C. 1252(a); 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5), 1003.1. The interim rule does not invite comment on existing regulations implementing this framework.

By contrast, section 235 of the INA is silent regarding procedures for the granting of statutory withholding of removal and CAT protection; indeed, section 235 predates the legislation directing implementation of U.S. obligations under Article 3 of the CAT. See Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, Public Law 105-277, sec. 2242(b) (requiring implementation of CAT); IIRIRA, Public Law 104-208, sec. 302 (revising section 235 of the INA to include procedures for dealing with inadmissible aliens who intend to apply for asylum). The legal standards for ultimately granting asylum on the merits versus statutory withholding or CAT protection are also different. Asylum requires an applicant to ultimately establish a “well-founded fear” of persecution, which has been interpreted to mean a “reasonable possibility” of persecution—a “more generous” standard than the “clear probability” of persecution or torture standard that applies to statutory withholding or CAT protection. See INS v. Stevic, 467 U.S. 407, 425, 429-30 (1984); Santosa v. Mukasey, 528 F.3d 88, 92 & n.1 (1st Cir. 2008); compare 8 CFR 1208.13(b)(2)(i)(B) with 8 CFR 1208.16(b)(2), (c)(2). As a result, applicants who establish eligibility for asylum are not necessarily eligible for statutory withholding or CAT protection.

Current regulations instruct USCIS adjudicators and immigration judges to treat an alien's request for asylum in expedited-removal proceedings under section 1225(b) as a request for statutory withholding and CAT protection as well. See 8 CFR 208.3(b), 208.30(e)(2)-(4), 1208.3(b), 1208.16(a). In the context of expedited-removal proceedings, “credible fear of persecution” is defined to mean a “significant possibility” that the alien “could establish eligibility for asylum under section 1158,” not CAT or statutory withholding. INA 235(b)(1)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(v). Regulations nevertheless have generally provided that aliens in expedited removal should be subject to the same process for considering statutory withholding of removal claims under INA 241(b)(3), 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3), and claims for protection under the CAT, as they are for asylum claims. See 8 CFR 208.30(e)(2)-(4).

Thus, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service provided for claims for statutory withholding of removal and CAT protection to be considered in the same expedited-removal proceedings as asylum, the result was that if an alien showed that there was a significant possibility of establishing eligibility for asylum and was therefore referred for removal proceedings under section 240 of the INA, any potential statutory withholding and CAT claims the alien might have were referred as well. This was done on the assumption that that it would not “disrupt[ ] the streamlined process established by Congress to circumvent meritless claims.” Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture, 64 FR 8478, 8485 (Feb. 19, 1999). But while the INA authorizes the Attorney General and Secretary to provide for consideration of statutory withholding and CAT claims together with asylum claims or other matters that may be considered in removal proceedings, the INA does not require that approach, see Foti v. INS, 375 U.S. 217, 229-30 & n.16 (1963), or that they be considered in the same way.

Since 1999, regulations also have provided for a distinct “reasonable fear” screening process for certain aliens who are categorically ineligible for asylum and can thus make claims only for statutory withholding or CAT protections. See 8 CFR 208.31. Specifically, if an alien is subject to having a previous order of removal reinstated or is a non-permanent resident alien subject to an administrative order of removal resulting from an aggravated felony conviction, then he is categorically ineligible for asylum. See id. § 208.31(a), (e). Such an alien can be placed in withholding-only proceedings to adjudicate his statutory withholding or CAT claims, but only if he first establishes a “reasonable fear” of persecution or torture through a screening process that tracks the credible-fear process. See id. § 208.31(c), (e). Reasonable fear is defined by regulation to mean a “reasonable possibility that [the alien] would be persecuted on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, or a reasonable possibility that he or she would be tortured in the country of removal.” Id. § 208.31(c). “This . . . screening process is modeled on the credible-fear screening process, but requires the alien to meet a higher screening standard.” Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture, 64 FR at 8485; see also Garcia v. Johnson, No. 14-CV-01775, 2014 WL 6657591, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 21, 2014) (describing the aim of the regulations as providing “fair and efficient procedures” in reasonable-fear screening that would comport with U.S. international obligations).

Significantly, when establishing the reasonable-fear screening process, DOJ explained that the two affected categories of aliens should be screened based on the higher reasonable-fear standard because, “[u]nlike the broad class of arriving aliens who are subject to expedited removal, these two classes of aliens are ineligible for asylum,” and may be entitled only to statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection. Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture, 64 FR at 8485. “Because the standard for showing entitlement to these forms of protection (a probability of persecution or torture) is significantly higher than the standard for asylum (a well-founded fear of persecution), the screening standard adopted for initial consideration of withholding and deferral requests in these contexts is also higher.” Id.

2. Drawing on the established framework for considering whether to grant withholding of removal or CAT protection in the reasonable-fear context, this interim rule establishes a bifurcated screening process for aliens subject to expedited removal who are ineligible for asylum by virtue of entering in contravention of a proclamation, but who express a fear of return or seek statutory withholding or CAT protection. The Attorney General and Secretary have broad authority to Start Printed Page 55943implement the immigration laws, see INA 103, 8 U.S.C. 1103, including by establishing regulations, see INA 103, 8 U.S.C. 1103(a)(3), and to regulate “conditions or limitations on the consideration of an application for asylum,” id. 1158(d)(5)(B). Furthermore, the Secretary has the authority—in her “sole and unreviewable discretion,” the exercise of which may be “modified at any time”—to designate additional categories of aliens that will be subject to expedited-removal procedures, so long as the designated aliens have not been admitted or paroled nor continuously present in the United States for two years. INA 235(b)(1)(A)(iii), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(iii). The Departments have frequently invoked these authorities to establish or modify procedures affecting aliens in expedited-removal proceedings, as well as to adjust the categories of aliens subject to particular procedures within the expedited-removal framework.[2]

This rule does not change the credible-fear standard for asylum claims, although the regulation would expand the scope of the inquiry in the process. An alien who is subject to a relevant proclamation and nonetheless has entered the United States after the effective date of such a proclamation in contravention of that proclamation would be ineligible for asylum and would thus not be able to establish a “significant possibility . . . [of] eligibility for asylum under section 1158.” INA 235(b)(1)(B)(v), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B)(v). As current USCIS guidance explains, under the credible-fear standard, “[a] claim that has no possibility, or only a minimal or mere possibility, of success, would not meet the `significant possibility' standard.” USCIS, Office of Refugee, Asylum, & Int'l Operations, Asylum Div., Asylum Officer Basic Training Course, Lesson Plan on Credible Fear at 15 (Feb. 13, 2017). Consistent with section 235(b)(1)(B)(iii)(III) of the INA, the alien could still obtain review from an immigration judge regarding whether the asylum officer correctly determined that the alien was subject to a limitation or suspension on entry imposed by a proclamation. Further, consistent with section 235(b)(1)(B) of the INA, if the immigration judge reversed the asylum officer's determination, the alien could assert the asylum claim in section 240 proceedings.

Aliens determined to be ineligible for asylum by virtue of contravening a proclamation, however, would still be screened, but in a manner that reflects that their only viable claims would be for statutory withholding or CAT protection pursuant to 8 CFR 208.30(e)(2)-(4) and 1208.16(a). After determining the alien's ineligibility for asylum under the credible-fear standard, the asylum officer would apply the long-established reasonable-fear standard to assess whether further proceedings on a possible statutory withholding or CAT protection claim are warranted. If the asylum officer determined that the alien had not established the requisite reasonable fear, the alien then could seek review of that decision from an immigration judge (just as the alien may under existing 8 CFR 208.30 and 208.31), and would be subject to removal only if the immigration judge agreed with the negative reasonable-fear finding. Conversely, if either the asylum officer or the immigration judge determined that the alien cleared the reasonable-fear threshold, the alien would be put in section 240 proceedings, just like aliens who receive a positive credible-fear determination for asylum. Employing a reasonable-fear standard in this context, for this category of ineligible aliens, would be consistent with the Department of Justice's longstanding rationale that “aliens ineligible for asylum,” who could only be granted statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection, should be subject to a different screening standard that would correspond to the higher bar for actually obtaining these forms of protection. See Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture, 64 FR at 8485 (“Because the standard for showing entitlement to these forms of protection . . . is significantly higher than the standard for asylum . . . the screening standard adopted for initial consideration of withholding and deferral requests in these contexts is also higher.”).

The screening process established by the interim rule will accordingly proceed as follows. For an alien subject to expedited removal, DHS will ascertain whether the alien seeks protection, consistent with INA 235(b)(1)(A)(ii), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(ii). All aliens seeking asylum, statutory withholding of removal, or CAT protection will continue to go before an asylum officer for screening, consistent with INA 235(b)(1)(B), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(B). The asylum officer will ask threshold questions to elicit whether an alien is ineligible for a grant of asylum pursuant to a proclamation entry bar. If there is a significant possibility that the alien is not subject to the eligibility bar (and the alien otherwise demonstrates sufficient facts pertaining to asylum eligibility), then the alien will have established a credible fear.

If, however, an alien lacks a significant possibility of eligibility for asylum because of the proclamation bar, then the asylum officer will make a negative credible-fear finding. The asylum officer will then apply the reasonable-fear standard to assess the alien's claims for statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection.

An alien subject to the proclamation-based asylum bar who clears the reasonable-fear screening standard will be placed in section 240 proceedings, just as an alien who clears the credible-fear standard will be. In those proceedings, the alien will also have an opportunity to raise whether the alien was correctly identified as subject to the proclamation ineligibility bar to asylum, as well as other claims. If an immigration judge determines that the alien was incorrectly identified as subject to the proclamation, the alien will be able to apply for asylum. Such aliens can appeal the immigration judge's decision in these proceedings to the BIA and then seek review from a federal court of appeals.

Conversely, an alien who is found to be subject to the proclamation asylum bar and who does not clear the reasonable-fear screening standard can obtain review of both of those determinations before an immigration judge, just as immigration judges currently review negative credible-fear and reasonable-fear determinations. If the immigration judge finds that either determination was incorrect, then the alien will be placed into section 240 proceedings. In reviewing the determinations, the immigration judge will decide de novo whether the alien is subject to the proclamation asylum bar. If, however, the immigration judge affirms both determinations, then the alien will be subject to removal without further appeal, consistent with the existing process under section 235 of the INA. In short, aliens subject to the proclamation eligibility bar to asylum will be processed through existing procedures by DHS and EOIR in accordance with 8 CFR 208.30 and 1208.30, but will be subject to the Start Printed Page 55944reasonable-fear standard as part of those procedures with respect to their statutory withholding and CAT protection claims.[3]

2. The above process will not affect the process in 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5) for certain existing statutory bars to asylum eligibility. Under that regulatory provision, many aliens who appear to fall within an existing statutory bar, and thus appear to be ineligible for asylum, can nonetheless be placed in section 240 proceedings if they are otherwise eligible for asylum and obtain immigration judge review of their asylum claims, followed by further review before the BIA and the courts of appeals. Specifically, with the exceptions of stowaways and aliens entering from Canada at a port of entry (who are generally ineligible to apply for asylum by virtue of a safe-third-country agreement), 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5) provides that “if an alien is able to establish a credible fear of persecution or torture but appears to be subject to one or more of the mandatory bars to applying for, or being granted, asylum contained in section 208(a)(2) and 208(b)(2) of the [INA] . . . [DHS] shall nonetheless place the alien in proceedings under section 240 of the [INA] for full consideration of the alien's claim.”

The language providing that the agency “shall nonetheless place the alien in proceedings under section 240 of the [INA]” was promulgated in 2000 in a final rule implementing asylum procedures after the 1996 enactment of IIRIRA. See Asylum Procedures, 65 FR at 76137. The explanation for this change was that some commenters suggested that aliens should be referred to section 240 proceedings “regardless of any apparent statutory ineligibility under section 208(a)(2) or 208(b)(2)(A) of the [INA]. The Department has adopted that suggestion and has so amended the regulation.” Id. at 76129.

This rule will avoid a textual ambiguity in 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5), which is unclear regarding its scope, by adding a new sentence clarifying the process applicable to an alien barred under a covered proclamation. See 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5) (referring to an alien who “appears to be subject to one or more of the mandatory bars to . . . asylum contained in section 208(a)(2) and 208(b)(2) of the [INA]”). By using a definite article (“the mandatory bars to . . . asylum”) and the phrase “contained in,” 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5) may refer only to aliens who are subject to the defined mandatory bars “contained in” specific parts of section 208 of the INA, such as the bar for aggravated felons, INA 208(b)(2)(B)(i), 8 U.S.C. 1558(b)(2)(B)(i), or the bar for aliens reasonably believed to be a danger to U.S. security, INA 208(b)(2)(A)(iv), 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A)(iv). It is thus not clear whether an alien subject to a further limitation or condition on asylum eligibility adopted pursuant to section 208(b)(2)(C) of the INA would also be subject to the procedures set forth in 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5). Notably, the preamble to the final rule adopting 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5) indicated that it was intended to apply to “any apparent statutory ineligibility under section 208(a)(2) or 208(b)(2)(A) of the [INA],” and did not address future regulatory ineligibility under section 208(b)(2)(C) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(C). Asylum Procedures, 65 FR at 76129. This rule does not resolve that question, however, but instead establishes an express regulatory provision dealing specifically with aliens subject to a limitation under section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the INA.

C. Anticipated Effects of the Rule

1. The interim rule aims to address an urgent situation at the southern border. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number and percentage of aliens who seek admission or unlawfully enter the United States and then assert an intent to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution. The vast majority of such assertions for protection occur in the expedited-removal context, and the rates at which such aliens receive a positive credible-fear determination have increased in the last five years. Having passed through the credible-fear screening process, many of these aliens are released into the interior to await further section 240 removal proceedings. But many aliens who pass through the credible-fear screening thereafter do not pursue their claims for asylum. Moreover, a substantial number fail to appear for a section 240 proceeding. And even aliens who passed through credible-fear screening and apply for asylum are granted it at a low rate.

Recent numbers illustrate the scope and scale of the problems caused by the disconnect between the number of aliens asserting a credible fear and the number of aliens who ultimately are deemed eligible for, and granted, asylum. In FY 2018, DHS identified some 612,183 inadmissible aliens who entered the United States, of whom 404,142 entered unlawfully between ports of entry and were apprehended by CBP, and 208,041 presented themselves at ports of entry. Those numbers exclude the inadmissible aliens who crossed but evaded detection, and interior enforcement operations conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). The vast majority of those inadmissible aliens—521,090—crossed the southern border. Approximately 98% (396,579) of all aliens apprehended after illegally crossing between ports of entry made their crossings at the southern border, and 76% of all encounters at the southern border reflect such apprehensions. By contrast, 124,511 inadmissible aliens presented themselves at ports of entry along the southern border, representing 60% of all port traffic for inadmissible aliens and 24% of encounters with inadmissible aliens at the southern border.

Nationwide, DHS has preliminarily calculated that throughout FY 2018, approximately 234,534 aliens who presented at a port of entry or were apprehended at the border were referred to expedited-removal proceedings. Of that total, approximately 171,511 aliens were apprehended crossing between ports of entry; approximately 59,921 were inadmissible aliens who presented at ports of entry; and approximately 3,102 were arrested by ICE and referred to expedited removal.[4] The total number of aliens of all nationalities referred to expedited-removal proceedings has significantly increased over the last decade, from 161,516 aliens in 2008 to approximately 234,534 in FY 2018 (an overall increase of about 45%). Of those totals, the number of aliens from the Northern Triangle referred to expedited-removal proceedings has increased from 29,206 in FY 2008 (18% of the total Start Printed Page 55945161,516 aliens referred) to approximately 103,752 in FY 2018 (44% of the total approximately 234,534 aliens referred, an increase of over 300%). In FY 2018, nationals of the Northern Triangle represented approximately 103,752 (44%) of the aliens referred to expedited-removal proceedings; approximately 91,235 (39%) were Mexican; and nationals from other countries made up the remaining balance (17%). As of the date of this rule, final expedited-removal statistics for FY 2018 specific to the southern border are not available. But the Departments' experience with immigration enforcement has demonstrated that the vast majority of expedited-removal actions have also occurred along the southern border.

Once in expedited removal, some 97,192 (approximately 41% of all aliens in expedited removal) were referred for a credible-fear interview with an asylum officer, either because they expressed a fear of persecution or torture or an intent to apply for protection. Of that number, 6,867 (7%) were Mexican nationals, 25,673 (26%) were Honduran, 13,433 (14%) were Salvadoran, 24,456 (25%) were Guatemalan, and other nationalities made up the remaining 28% (the largest proportion of which were 7,761 Indian nationals).

In other words: Approximately 61% of aliens from Northern Triangle countries placed in expedited removal expressed the intent to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution and triggered credible-fear proceedings in FY 2018 (approximately 69% of Hondurans, 79% of Salvadorans, and 49% of Guatemalans). These aliens represented 65% of all credible-fear referrals in FY 2018. By contrast, only 8% of aliens from Mexico trigger credible-fear proceedings when they are placed in expedited removal, and Mexicans represented 7% of all credible-fear referrals. Other nationalities compose the remaining 26,763 (28%) referred for credible-fear interviews.

Once these 97,192 aliens were interviewed by an asylum officer, 83,862 cases were decided on the merits (asylum officers closed the others).[5] Those asylum officers found a credible fear in 89% (74,574) of decided cases—meaning that almost all of those aliens' cases were referred on for further immigration proceedings under section 240, and many of the aliens were released into the interior while awaiting those proceedings.[6] As noted, nationals of Northern Triangle countries represent the bulk of credible-fear referrals (65%, or 63,562 cases where the alien expressed an intent to apply for asylum or asserted a fear). In cases where asylum officers decided whether nationals of these countries had a credible fear, they received a positive credible-fear finding 88% of the time.[7] Moreover, when aliens from those countries sought review of negative findings by an immigration judge, they obtained reversals approximately 18% of the time, resulting in some 47,507 cases in which nationals of Northern Triangle countries received positive credible-fear determinations.[8] In other words: Aliens from Northern Triangle countries ultimately received a positive credible-fear determination 89% of the time. Some 6,867 Mexican nationals were interviewed; asylum officers gave them a positive credible-fear determination in 81% of decided cases (4,261), and immigration judges reversed an additional 91 negative credible-fear determinations, resulting in some 4,352 cases (83% of cases decided on the merits) in which Mexican nationals were referred to section 240 proceedings after receiving a positive credible-fear determination.

These figures have enormous consequences for the asylum system writ large. Asylum officers and immigration judges devote significant resources to these screening interviews, which the INA requires to happen within a fixed statutory timeframe. These aliens must also be detained during the pendency of expedited-removal proceedings. See INA 235(b), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b); Jennings v. Rodriguez, 138 S. Ct. 830, 834 (2018). And assertions of credible fear in expedited removal have rapidly grown in the last decade—especially in the last five years. In FY 2008, for example, fewer than 5,000 aliens were in expedited removal (5%) and were thus referred for a credible-fear interview. In FY 2014, 51,001 referrals occurred (representing 21% of aliens in expedited removal). The credible-fear referral numbers today reflect a 190% increase from FY 2014 and a nearly 2000% increase from FY 2008. Furthermore, the percentage of cases in which asylum officers found that aliens had established a credible fear—leading to the aliens being placed in section 240 removal proceedings—has also increased in recent years. In FY 2008, asylum officers found a credible fear in about 3,200 (or 77%) of all cases. In FY 2014, asylum officers found a credible fear in about 35,000 (or 80%) of all cases in which they made a determination. And in FY 2018, asylum officers found a credible fear in nearly 89% of all such cases.

Once aliens are referred for section 240 proceedings, their cases may take months or years to adjudicate due to backlogs in the system. As of November 2, 2018, there were approximately 203,569 total cases pending in the immigration courts that originated with a credible-fear referral—or 26% of the total backlog of 791,821 removal cases. Of that number, 136,554 involved nationals of Northern Triangle countries (39,940 cases involving Hondurans; 59,702 involving Salvadoran nationals; 36,912 involving Guatemalan nationals). Another 10,736 cases involved Mexican nationals.

In FY 2018, immigration judges completed 34,158 total cases that originated with a credible-fear referral.9 Start Printed Page 55946Those aliens were likely referred for credible-fear screening between 2015 and 2018; the vast majority of these cases arose from positive credible-fear determinations as opposed to the subset of cases that were closed in expedited removal and referred for section 240 proceedings. In a significant proportion of these cases, the aliens did not appear for section 240 proceedings or did not file an application for asylum in connection with those proceedings. In FY 2018, of the 34,158 completions that originated with a credible-fear referral, 24,361 (71%) were completed by an immigration judge with the issuance of an order of removal. Of those completed cases, 10,534 involved in absentia removal orders, meaning that in approximately 31% of all initial completions in FY 2018 that originated from a credible-fear referral, the alien failed to appear at a hearing. Moreover, of those 10,534 cases, there were 1,981 cases where an asylum application was filed, meaning 8,553 did not file an asylum application and failed to appear at a hearing. Further, 40% of all initial completions originating with a credible-fear referral (or 13,595 cases, including the 8,553 aliens just discussed) were completed in FY 2018 without an alien filing an application for asylum. In short, in nearly half of the cases completed by an immigration judge in FY 2018 involving aliens who passed through a credible-fear referral, the alien failed to appear at a hearing or failed to file an asylum application.

Those figures are consistent with trends from FY 2008 through FY 2018, during which time DHS pursued some 354,356 cases in the immigration courts that involved aliens who had gone through a credible-fear review (i.e., the aliens received a positive credible-fear determination or their closed case was referred for further proceedings). During this period, however, only about 53% (189,127) of those aliens filed an asylum application, despite the fact that they were placed into further immigration proceedings under section 240 because they alleged a fear during expedited-removal proceedings.

Even among those aliens who received a credible-fear interview, filed for asylum, and appeared in section 240 proceedings to resolve their asylum claims—a category that would logically include the aliens with the greatest confidence in the merits of their claims—only a very small percentage received asylum. In FY 2018 immigration judges completed 34,158 cases that originated with a credible-fear referral; only 20,563 of those cases involved an application for asylum, and immigration judges granted only 5,639 aliens asylum. In other words, in FY 2018, less than about 6,000 aliens who passed through credible-fear screening (17% of all completed cases, 27% of all completed cases in which an asylum application was filed, and about 36% of cases where the asylum claim was adjudicated on the merits) established that they should be granted asylum. (An additional 322 aliens received either statutory withholding or CAT protection.) Because there may be multiple bases for denying an asylum application and immigration judges often make alternative findings for consideration of issues on appeal, EOIR does not track reasons for asylum denials by immigration judges at a granular level. Nevertheless, experience indicates that the vast majority of those asylum denials reflect a conclusion that the alien failed to establish a significant possibility of persecution, rather than the effect of a bar to asylum eligibility or a discretionary decision by an immigration judge to deny asylum to an alien who qualifies as a refugee.

The statistics for nationals of Northern Triangle countries are particularly illuminating. In FY 2018, immigration judges in section 240 proceedings adjudicated 20,784 cases involving nationals of Northern Triangle countries who were referred for credible-fear interviews and then referred to section 240 proceedings (i.e., they expressed a fear and either received a positive credible-fear determination or had their case closed and referred to section 240 proceedings for an unspecified reason). Given that those aliens asserted a fear of persecution and progressed through credible-fear screening, those aliens presumably would have had the greatest reason to then pursue an asylum application. Yet in only about 54% of those cases did the alien file an asylum application. Furthermore, about 38% of aliens from Northern Triangle countries who were referred for credible-fear interviews and passed to section 240 proceedings did not appear, and were ordered removed in absentia. Put differently: Only a little over half of aliens from Northern Triangle countries who claimed a fear of persecution and passed threshold screening submitted an application for asylum, and over a third did not appear at section 240 proceedings.[10] And only 1,889 aliens from Northern Triangle countries were granted asylum, or approximately 9% of completed cases for aliens from Northern Triangle countries who received a credible-fear referral, 17% of the cases where such aliens filed asylum applications in their removal proceedings, and about 23% of cases where such aliens' asylum claims were adjudicated on the merits. Specifically, in FY 2018, 536 Hondurans, 408 Guatemalans, and 945 Salvadorans who initially were referred for a credible-fear interview (whether in FY 2018 or earlier) and progressed to section 240 proceedings were granted asylum.

The Departments thus believe that these numbers underscore the major costs and inefficiencies of the current asylum system. Again, numbers for Northern Triangle nationals—who represent the vast majority of aliens who claim a credible fear—illuminate the scale of the problem. Out of the 63,562 Northern Triangle nationals who expressed an intent to apply for asylum or a fear of persecution and received credible-fear screening interviews in FY 2018, 47,507 received a positive credible-fear finding from the asylum officer or immigration judge. (Another 10,357 cases were administratively closed, some of which also may have been referred to section 240 proceedings.) Those aliens will remain in the United States to await section 240 proceedings while immigration judges work through the current backlog of nearly 800,000 cases—136,554 of which involve nationals of Northern Triangle countries who passed through credible-Start Printed Page 55947fear screening interviews. Immigration judges adjudicated 20,784 cases involving such nationals of Northern Triangle countries in FY 2018; slightly under half of those aliens did not file an application for asylum, and over a third were screened through expedited removal but did not appear for a section 240 proceeding. Even when nationals of Northern Triangle countries who passed through credible-fear screening applied for asylum (as 11,307 did in cases completed in FY 2018), immigration judges granted asylum to only 1,889, or 17% of the cases where such aliens filed asylum applications in their removal proceedings. Immigration judges found in the overwhelming majority of cases that the aliens had no significant possibility of persecution.

These existing burdens suggest an unsustainably inefficient process, and those pressures are now coupled with the prospect that large caravans of thousands of aliens, primarily from Central America, will seek to enter the United States unlawfully or without proper documentation and thereafter trigger credible-fear screening procedures and obtain release into the interior. The United States has been engaged in ongoing diplomatic negotiations with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) about the problems on the southern border, but those negotiations have, to date, proved unable to meaningfully improve the situation.

2. In combination with a presidential proclamation directed at the crisis on the southern border, the rule would help ameliorate the pressures on the present system. Aliens who could not establish a credible fear for asylum purposes due to the proclamation-based eligibility bar could nonetheless seek statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection, but would receive a positive finding only by establishing a reasonable fear of persecution or torture. In FY 2018, USCIS issued nearly 7,000 reasonable-fear determinations (i.e., made a positive or negative determination)—a smaller number because the current determinations are limited to the narrow categories of aliens described above. Of those determinations, USCIS found a reasonable fear in 45% of cases in 2018, and 48% of cases in 2017. Negative reasonable-fear determinations were then subject to further review, and immigration judges reversed approximately 18%.

Even if rates of positive reasonable-fear findings increased when a more general population of aliens became subject to the reasonable-fear screening process, this process would better filter those aliens eligible for that form of protection. Even assuming that grant rates for statutory withholding in the reasonable-fear screening process (a higher standard) would be the same as grant rates for asylum, this screening mechanism would likely still allow through a significantly higher percentage of cases than would likely be granted. And the reasonable-fear screening rates would also still allow a far greater percentage of claimants through than would ultimately receive CAT protection. Fewer than 1,000 aliens per year, of any nationality, receive CAT protection.

To the extent that aliens continued to enter the United States in violation of a relevant proclamation, the application of the rule's bar to eligibility for asylum in the credible-fear screening process (combined with the application of the reasonable-fear standard to statutory withholding and CAT claims) would reduce the number of cases referred to section 240 proceedings. Finally, the Departments emphasize that this rule would not prevent aliens with claims for statutory withholding or CAT protection from having their claims adjudicated in section 240 proceedings after satisfying the reasonable-fear standard.

Further, determining whether an alien is subject to a suspension of entry proclamation would ordinarily be straightforward, because such orders specify the class of aliens whose entry is restricted. Likewise, adding questions designed to elicit whether an alien is subject to an entry proclamation, and employing a bifurcated credible-fear analysis for the asylum claim and reasonable-fear review of the statutory withholding and CAT claims, will likely not be unduly burdensome. Although DHS has generally not applied existing mandatory bars to asylum in credible-fear determinations, asylum officers currently probe for this information and note in the record where the possibility exists that a mandatory bar may apply. Though screening for proclamation-based ineligibility for asylum may in some cases entail some additional work, USCIS will account for it under the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq., as needed, following issuance of a covered proclamation. USCIS asylum officers and EOIR immigration judges have almost two decades of experience applying the reasonable-fear standard to statutory withholding and CAT claims, and do so in thousands of cases per year already (13,732 in FY 2018 for both EOIR and USCIS). See, e.g., Memorandum for All Immigration Judges, et al., from The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge, Executive Office for Immigration Review at 6 (May 14, 1999) (explaining similarities between credible-fear and reasonable-fear proceedings for immigration judges).

That said, USCIS estimates that asylum officers have historically averaged four to five credible-fear interviews and completions per day, but only two to three reasonable-fear case completions per day. Comparing this against current case processing targets, and depending on the number of aliens who contravene a presidential proclamation, such a change might result in the need to increase the number of officers required to conduct credible-fear or reasonable-fear screenings to maintain current case completion goals. However, current reasonable-fear interviews are for types of aliens (aggravated felons and aliens subject to reinstatement) for whom relevant criminal and immigration records take time to obtain, and for whom additional interviewing and administrative processing time is typically required. The population of aliens who would be subject to this rule would generally not have the same type of criminal and immigration records in the United States, but additional interviewing time might be necessary. Therefore, it is unclear whether these averages would hold once the rule is implemented.

If an asylum officer determines that credible fear has been established but for the existence of the proclamation bar, and the alien seeks review of such determination before an immigration judge, DHS may need to shift additional resources towards facilitating such review in immigration court in order to provide records of the negative credible-fear determination to the immigration court. However, ICE attorneys, while sometimes present, generally do not advocate for DHS in negative credible-fear or reasonable-fear reviews before an immigration judge.

DHS would, however, also expend additional resources detaining aliens who would have previously received a positive credible-fear determination and who now receive, and challenge, a negative credible-fear and reasonable-fear determination. Aliens are generally detained during the credible-fear screening, but may be eligible for parole or release on bond if they establish a credible fear. To the extent that the rule may result in lengthier interviews for each case, aliens' length of stay in detention would increase. Furthermore, DHS anticipates that more negative determinations would increase the number of aliens who would be Start Printed Page 55948detained and the length of time they would be detained, since fewer aliens would be eligible for parole or release on bond. Also, to the extent this rule would increase the number of aliens who receive both negative credible-fear and reasonable-fear determinations, and would thus be subject to immediate removal, DHS will incur increased and more immediate costs for enforcement and removal of these aliens. That cost would be counterbalanced by the fact that it would be considerably more costly and resource-intensive to ultimately remove such an alien after the end of section 240 proceedings, and the desirability of promoting greater enforcement of the immigration laws.

Attorneys from ICE represent DHS in full immigration proceedings, and immigration judges (who are part of DOJ) adjudicate those proceedings. If fewer aliens are found to have credible fear or reasonable fear and referred to full immigration proceedings, such a development will allow DOJ and ICE attorney resources to be reallocated to other immigration proceedings. The additional bars to asylum are unlikely to result in immigration judges spending much additional time on each case where the nature of the proclamation bar is straightforward to apply. Further, there will likely be a decrease in the number of asylum hearings before immigration judges because certain respondents will no longer be eligible for asylum and DHS will likely refer fewer cases to full immigration proceedings. If DHS officers identify the proclamation-based bar to asylum (before EOIR has acquired jurisdiction over the case), EOIR anticipates a reduction in both in-court and out-of-court time for immigration judges.

A decrease in the number of credible-fear findings and, thus, asylum grants would also decrease the number of employment authorization documents processed by DHS. Aliens are generally eligible to apply for and receive employment authorization and an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-766) after their asylum claim has been pending for more than 180 days. See INA 208(d)(5)(A)(iii), 8 U.S.C. 1158(d)(5)(A)(iii); 8 CFR 1208.7(a)(1)(2). This rule and any associated future presidential proclamations would also be expected to have a deterrent effect that could lessen future flows of illegal immigration.

3. The Departments are not in a position to determine how all entry proclamations involving the southern border could affect the decision calculus for various categories of aliens planning to enter the United States through the southern border in the near future. The focus of this rule is on the tens of thousands of aliens each year (97,192 in FY 2018) who assert a credible fear in expedited-removal proceedings and may thereby be placed on a path to release into the interior of the United States. The President has announced his intention to take executive action to suspend the entry of aliens between ports of entry and instead to channel such aliens to ports of entry, where they may seek to enter and assert an intent to apply for asylum in a controlled, orderly, and lawful manner. The Departments have accordingly assessed the anticipated effects of such a presidential action so as to illuminate how the rule would be applied in those circumstances.

a. Effects on Aliens. Such a proclamation, coupled with this rule, would have the most direct effect on the more than approximately 70,000 aliens a year (as of FY 2018) estimated to enter between the ports of entry and then assert a credible fear in expedited-removal proceedings.[11] If such aliens contravened a proclamation suspending their entry unless they entered at a port of entry, they would become ineligible for asylum, but would remain eligible for statutory withholding or CAT protection. And for the reasons discussed above, their claims would be processed more expeditiously. Conversely, if such aliens decided to instead arrive at ports of entry, they would remain eligible for asylum and would proceed through the existing credible-fear screening process.

Such an application of this rule could also affect the decision calculus for the estimated 24,000 or so aliens a year (as of FY 2018) who arrive at ports of entry along the southern border and assert a credible fear in expedited-removal proceedings.[12] Such aliens would likely face increased wait times at a U.S. port of entry, meaning that they would spend more time in Mexico. Third-country nationals in this category would have added incentives to take advantage of Mexican asylum procedures and to make decisions about travel to a U.S. port of entry based on information about which ports were most capable of swift processing.

Such an application of this rule could also affect aliens who apply for asylum affirmatively or in removal proceedings after entering through the southern border. Some of those asylum grants would become denials for aliens who became ineligible for asylum because they crossed illegally in contravention of a proclamation effective before they entered. Such aliens could, however, still obtain statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection in section 240 proceedings.

Finally, such a proclamation could also affect the thousands of aliens who are granted asylum each year. Those aliens' cases are equally subject to existing backlogs in immigration courts, and could be adjudicated more swiftly if the number of non-meritorious cases declined. Aliens with meritorious claims could thus more expeditiously receive the benefits associated with asylum.

b. Effects on the Departments' Operations. Applying this rule in conjunction with a proclamation that channeled aliens seeking asylum to ports of entry would likely create significant overall efficiencies in the Departments' operations beyond the general efficiencies discussed above. Channeling even some proportion of aliens who currently enter illegally and assert a credible fear to ports of entry would, on balance, be expected to help the Departments more effectively leverage their resources to promote orderly and efficient processing of inadmissible aliens.

At present, CBP dedicates enormous resources to attempting to apprehend aliens who cross the southern border illegally. As noted, CBP apprehended 396,579 such aliens in FY 2018. Such crossings often occur in remote locations, and over 16,000 CBP officers are responsible for patrolling hundreds of thousands of square miles of territory, ranging from deserts to mountainous terrain to cities. When a United States Border Patrol (“Border Patrol” or “USBP”) agent apprehends an alien who enters unlawfully, the USBP agent takes the alien into custody and transports the alien to a Border Patrol station for processing—which could be hours away. Family units apprehended after crossing illegally present additional logistical challenges, and may require additional agents to assist Start Printed Page 55949with the transport of the illegal aliens from the point of apprehension to the station for processing. And apprehending one alien or group of aliens may come at the expense of apprehending others while agents are dedicating resources to transportation instead of patrolling.

At the Border Patrol station, a CBP agent obtains an alien's fingerprints, photographs, and biometric data, and begins asking background questions about the alien's nationality and purpose in crossing. At the same time, agents must make swift decisions, in coordination with DOJ, as to whether to charge the alien with an immigration-related criminal offense. Further, agents must decide whether to apply expedited-removal procedures, to pursue reinstatement proceedings if the alien already has a removal order in effect, to authorize voluntary return, or to pursue some other lawful course of action. Once the processing of the alien is completed, the USBP temporarily detains any alien who is referred for removal proceedings. Once the USBP determines that an alien should be placed in expedited-removal proceedings, the alien is expeditiously transferred to ICE custody in compliance with federal law. The distance between ICE detention facilities and USBP stations, however, varies. Asylum officers and immigration judges review negative credible-fear findings during expedited-removal proceedings while the alien is in ICE custody.

By contrast, CBP officers are able to employ a more orderly and streamlined process for inadmissible aliens who present at one of the ports of entry along the southern border—even if they claim a credible fear. Because such aliens have typically sought admission without violating the law, CBP generally does not need to dedicate resources to apprehending or considering whether to charge such aliens. And while aliens who present at a port of entry undergo threshold screening to determine their admissibility, see INA 235(b)(2), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(2), that process takes approximately the same amount of time as CBP's process for obtaining details from aliens apprehended between ports of entry. Just as for illegal entrants, CBP officers at ports of entry must decide whether inadmissible aliens at ports of entry are subject to expedited removal. Aliens subject to such proceedings are then generally transferred to ICE custody so that DHS can implement Congress's statutory mandate to detain such aliens during the pendency of expedited-removal proceedings. As with stations, ports of entry vary in their proximity to ICE detention facilities.

The Departments acknowledge that in the event all of the approximately 70,000 aliens per year who cross illegally and assert a credible fear instead decide to present at a port of entry, processing times at ports of entry would be slower in the absence of additional resources or policies that would encourage aliens to enter at less busy ports. Using FY 2018 figures, the number of aliens presenting at a port of entry would rise from about 124,511 to about 200,000 aliens if all illegal aliens who assert a credible fear went to ports of entry. That would likely create longer lines at U.S. ports of entry, although the Departments note that such ports have variable capacities and that wait times vary considerably between them. The Departments nonetheless believe such a policy would be preferable to the status quo. Nearly 40% of inadmissible aliens who present at ports of entry today are Mexican nationals, who rarely claim a credible fear and who accordingly can be processed and admitted or removed quickly.

Furthermore, the overwhelming number of aliens who would have an incentive under the rule and a proclamation to arrive at a port of entry rather than to cross illegally are from third countries, not from Mexico. In FY 2018, CBP apprehended and referred to expedited removal an estimated 87,544 Northern Triangle nationals and an estimated 66,826 Mexican nationals, but Northern Triangle nationals assert a credible fear over 60% of the time, whereas Mexican nationals assert a credible fear less than 10% of the time. The Departments believe that it is reasonable for third-country aliens, who appear highly unlikely to be persecuted on account of a protected ground or tortured in Mexico, to be subject to orderly processing at ports of entry that takes into account resource constraints at ports of entry and in U.S. detention facilities. Such orderly processing would be impossible if large proportions of third-country nationals continue to cross the southern border illegally.

To be sure, some Mexican nationals who would assert a credible fear may also have to spend more time waiting for processing in Mexico. Such nationals, however, could still obtain statutory withholding of removal or CAT protection if they crossed illegally, which would allow them a safeguard against persecution. Moreover, only 178 Mexican nationals received asylum in FY 2018 after initially asserting a credible fear of persecution in expedited-removal proceedings, indicating that the category of Mexican nationals most likely to be affected by the rule and a proclamation would also be highly unlikely to establish eligibility for asylum.

Regulatory Requirements

A. Administrative Procedure Act

While the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) generally requires agencies to publish notice of a proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register for a period of public comment, it provides an exception “when the agency for good cause finds . . . that notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.” 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). This exception relieves agencies of the notice-and-comment requirement in emergency situations, or in circumstances where “the delay created by the notice and comment requirements would result in serious damage to important interests.” Woods Psychiatric Inst. v. United States, 20 Cl. Ct. 324, 333 (1990), aff'd, 925 F.2d 1454 (Fed. Cir. 1991); see also Nat'l Fed'n of Federal Emps. v. Nat'l Treasury Emps. Union, 671 F.2d 607, 611 (D.C. Cir. 1982); United States v. Dean, 604 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2010). Agencies have previously relied on this exception in promulgating a host of immigration-related interim rules.[13] Furthermore, DHS has invoked this exception in promulgating rules related to expedited removal—a context in which Congress recognized the need for dispatch in addressing large volumes of aliens by giving the Secretary significant discretion to “modify at any time” the classes of aliens who would be subject to such procedures. See INA 235(b)(1)(A)(iii)(I), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(iii)(I).[14]

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The Departments have concluded that the good-cause exceptions in 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) and (d)(3) apply to this rule. Notice and comment on this rule, along with a 30-day delay in its effective date, would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest. The Departments have determined that immediate implementation of this rule is essential to avoid creating an incentive for aliens to seek to cross the border during pre-promulgation notice and comment under 5 U.S.C. 553(b) or during the 30-day delay in the effective date under 5 U.S.C. 553(d).

DHS concluded in January 2017 that it was imperative to give immediate effect to a rule designating Cuban nationals arriving by air as eligible for expedited removal because “pre-promulgation notice and comment would . . . endanger[] human life and hav[e] a potential destabilizing effect in the region.” Eliminating Exception to Expedited Removal Authority for Cuban Nationals Arriving by Air, 82 FR at 4770. DHS in particular cited the prospect that “publication of the rule as a proposed rule, which would signal a significant change in policy while permitting continuation of the exception for Cuban nationals, could lead to a surge in migration of Cuban nationals seeking to travel to and enter the United States during the period between the publication of a proposed and a final rule.” Id. DHS found that “[s]uch a surge would threaten national security and public safety by diverting valuable Government resources from counterterrorism and homeland security responsibilities. A surge could also have a destabilizing effect on the region, thus weakening the security of the United States and threatening its international relations.” Id. DHS concluded: “[A] surge could result in significant loss of human life.” Id.; accord, e.g., Designating Aliens For Expedited Removal, 69 FR 48877 (noting similar destabilizing incentives for a surge during a delay in the effective date); Visas: Documentation of Nonimmigrants Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as Amended, 81 FR at 5907 (finding the good-cause exception applicable because of similar short-run incentive concerns).

These same concerns would apply here as well. Pre-promulgation notice and comment, or a delay in the effective date, could lead to an increase in migration to the southern border to enter the United States before the rule took effect. For instance, the thousands of aliens who presently enter illegally and make claims of credible fear if and when they are apprehended would have an added incentive to cross illegally during the comment period. They have an incentive to cross illegally in the hopes of evading detection entirely. Even once apprehended, at present, they are able to take advantage of a second opportunity to remain in the United States by making credible-fear claims in expedited-removal proceedings. Even if their statements are ultimately not found to be genuine, they are likely to be released into the interior pending section 240 proceedings that may not occur for months or years. Based on the available statistics, the Departments believe that a large proportion of aliens who enter illegally and assert a fear could be released while awaiting section 240 proceedings. There continues to be an “urgent need to deter foreign nationals from undertaking dangerous border crossings, and thereby prevent the needless deaths and crimes associated with human trafficking and alien smuggling operations.” Designating Aliens For Expedited Removal, 69 FR at 48878.

Furthermore, there are already large numbers of migrants—including thousands of aliens traveling in groups, primarily from Central America—expected to attempt entry at the southern border in the coming weeks. Some are traveling in large, organized groups through Mexico and, by reports, intend to come to the United States unlawfully or without proper documentation and to express an intent to seek asylum. Creating an incentive for members of those groups to attempt to enter the United States unlawfully before this rule took effect would make more dangerous their already perilous journeys, and would further strain CBP's apprehension operations. This interim rule is thus a practical means to address these developments and avoid creating an even larger short-term influx; an extended notice-and-comment rulemaking process would be impracticable.

Alternatively, the Departments may forgo notice-and-comment procedures and a delay in the effective date because this rule involves a “foreign affairs function of the United States.” 5 U.S.C. 553(a)(1). The flow of aliens across the southern border, unlawfully or without appropriate travel documents, directly implicates the foreign policy interests of the United States. See, e.g., Exec. Order 13767 (Jan. 25, 2017). Presidential proclamations invoking section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the INA at the southern border necessarily implicate our relations with Mexico and the President's foreign policy, including sensitive and ongoing negotiations with Mexico about how to manage our shared border.[15] A proclamation under section 212(f) of the INA would reflect a presidential determination that some or all entries along the border “would [be] detrimental to the interests of the United States.” And the structure of the rule, under which the Attorney General and the Secretary are exercising their statutory authority to establish a mandatory bar to asylum eligibility resting squarely on a proclamation issued by the President, confirms the direct relationship between the President's foreign policy decisions in this area and the rule.

For instance, a proclamation aimed at channeling aliens who wish to make a claim for asylum to ports of entry at the southern border would be inextricably related to any negotiations over a safe-third-country agreement (as defined in INA 208(a)(2)(A), 8 U.S.C. 1158(a)(2)(A)), or any similar arrangements. As noted, the vast majority of aliens who enter illegally today come from the Northern Triangle countries, and large portions of those aliens assert a credible fear. Channeling those aliens to ports of entry would encourage these aliens to first avail themselves of offers of asylum from Mexico.

Moreover, this rule would be an integral part of ongoing negotiations with Mexico and Northern Triangle countries over how to address the influx of tens of thousands of migrants from Central America through Mexico and into the United States. For instance, over the past few weeks, the United States has consistently engaged with the Security and Foreign Ministries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as the Ministries of Governance and Foreign Affairs of Mexico, to Start Printed Page 55951discuss how to address the mass influx of aliens traveling together from Central America who plan to seek to enter at the southern border. Those ongoing discussions involve negotiations over issues such as how these other countries will develop a process to provide this influx with the opportunity to seek protection at the safest and earliest point of transit possible, and how to establish compliance and enforcement mechanisms for those who seek to enter the United States illegally, including for those who do not avail themselves of earlier offers of protection. Furthermore, the United States and Mexico have been engaged in ongoing discussions of a safe-third-country agreement, and this rule will strengthen the ability of the United States to address the crisis at the southern border and therefore facilitate the likelihood of success in future negotiations.

This rule thus supports the President's foreign policy with respect to Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries in this area and is exempt from the notice-and-comment and delayed-effective-date requirements in 5 U.S.C. 553. See Am. Ass'n of Exporters & Importers-Textile & Apparel Grp. v. United States, 751 F.2d 1239, 1249 (Fed. Cir. 1985) (noting that foreign affairs exception covers agency actions “linked intimately with the Government's overall political agenda concerning relations with another country”); Yassini v. Crosland, 618 F.2d 1356, 1361 (9th Cir. 1980) (because an immigration directive “was implementing the President's foreign policy,” the action “fell within the foreign affairs function and good cause exceptions to the notice and comment requirements of the APA”).

Invoking the APA's foreign affairs exception is also consistent with past rulemakings. In 2016, for example, in response to diplomatic developments between the United States and Cuba, DHS changed its regulations concerning flights to and from the island via an immediately effective interim final rule. This rulemaking explained that it was covered by the foreign affairs exception because it was “consistent with U.S. foreign policy goals”—specifically, the “continued effort to normalize relations between the two countries.” Flights to and From Cuba, 81 FR 14948, 14952 (Mar. 21, 2016). In a similar vein, DHS and the State Department recently provided notice that they were eliminating an exception to expedited removal for certain Cuban nationals. The notice explained that the change in policy was subject to the foreign affairs exception because it was “part of a major foreign policy initiative announced by the President, and is central to ongoing diplomatic discussions between the United States and Cuba with respect to travel and migration between the two countries.” Eliminating Exception To Expedited Removal Authority for Cuban Nationals Encountered in the United States or Arriving by Sea, 82 FR at 4904-05.

For the foregoing reasons, taken together, the Departments have concluded that the foreign affairs exemption to notice-and-comment rulemaking applies.

B. Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq., as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, requires an agency to prepare and make available to the public a regulatory flexibility analysis that describes the effect of the rule on small entities (i.e., small businesses, small organizations, and small governmental jurisdictions). A regulatory flexibility analysis is not required when a rule is exempt from notice-and-comment rulemaking.

C. Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995

This interim final rule will not result in the expenditure by state, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100 million or more in any one year, and it will not significantly or uniquely affect small governments. Therefore, no actions were deemed necessary under the provisions of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995.

D. Congressional Review Act

This interim final rule is not a major rule as defined by section 804 of the Congressional Review Act. 5 U.S.C. 804. This rule will not result in an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more; a major increase in costs or prices; or significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets.

E. Executive Order 12866, Executive Order 13563, and Executive Order 13771 (Regulatory Planning and Review)

This interim final rule is not a “significant regulatory action” under section 3(f) of Executive Order 12866 because the rule is exempt under the foreign-affairs exemption in section 3(d)(2) as part of the actual exercise of diplomacy. The rule is consequently also exempt from Executive Order 13771 because it is not a significant regulatory action under Executive Order 12866. Though the potential costs, benefits, and transfers associated with some proclamations may have any of a range of economic impacts, this rule itself does not have an impact aside from enabling future action. The Departments have discussed what some of the potential impacts associated with a proclamation may be, but these impacts do not stem directly from this rule and, as such, they do not consider them to be costs, benefits, or transfers of this rule.

This rule amends existing regulations to provide that aliens subject to restrictions on entry under certain proclamations are ineligible for asylum. The expected effects of this rule for aliens and on the Departments' operations are discussed above. As noted, this rule will result in the application of an additional mandatory bar to asylum, but the scope of that bar will depend on the substance of relevant triggering proclamations. In addition, this rule requires DHS to consider and apply the proclamation bar in the credible-fear screening analysis, which DHS does not currently do. Application of the new bar to asylum will likely decrease the number of asylum grants. By applying the bar earlier in the process, it will lessen the time that aliens who are ineligible for asylum and who lack a reasonable fear of persecution or torture will be present in the United States. Finally, DOJ is amending its regulations with respect to aliens who are subject to the proclamation bar to asylum eligibility to ensure that aliens who establish a reasonable fear of persecution or torture may still seek, in proceedings before immigration judges, statutory withholding of removal under the INA or CAT protection.

Executive Order 13132 (Federalism)

This rule will not have substantial direct effects on the States, on the relationship between the national government and the States, or on the distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of government. Therefore, in accordance with section 6 of Executive Order 13132, it is determined that this rule does not have sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a federalism summary impact statement.

F. Executive Order 12988 (Civil Justice Reform)

This rule meets the applicable standards set forth in sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of Executive Order 12988.Start Printed Page 55952

G. Paperwork Reduction Act

This rule does not propose new or revisions to existing “collection[s] of information” as that term is defined under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Public Law 104-13, 44 U.S.C. chapter 35, and its implementing regulations, 5 CFR part 1320.

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List of Subjects

8 CFR Part 208

  • Administrative practice and procedure
  • Aliens
  • Immigration
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements

8 CFR Part 1003

  • Administrative practice and procedure
  • Aliens
  • Immigration
  • Legal services
  • Organization and functions (Government agencies)

8 CFR Part 1208

  • Administrative practice and procedure
  • Aliens
  • Immigration
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
End List of Subjects

Regulatory Amendments

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

Accordingly, for the reasons set forth in the preamble, the Secretary of Homeland Security amends 8 CFR part 208 as follows:

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PART 208—PROCEDURES FOR ASYLUM AND WITHHOLDING OF REMOVAL

End Part Start Amendment Part

1. The authority citation for part 208 continues to read as fol1ows:

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Authority: 8 U.S.C. 1101, 1103, 1158, 1226, 1252, 1282; Title VII of Public Law 110-229, 8 CFR part 2.

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2. In § 208.13, add paragraph (c)(3) to read as follows:

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Establishing asylum eligibility.
* * * * *

(c) * * *

(3) Additional limitation on eligibility for asylum. For applications filed after November 9, 2018, an alien shall be ineligible for asylum if the alien is subject to a presidential proclamation or other presidential order suspending or limiting the entry of aliens along the southern border with Mexico that is issued pursuant to subsection 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Act on or after November 9, 2018 and the alien enters the United States after the effective date of the proclamation or order contrary to the terms of the proclamation or order. This limitation on eligibility does not apply if the proclamation or order expressly provides that it does not affect eligibility for asylum, or expressly provides for a waiver or exception that makes the suspension or limitation inapplicable to the alien.

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3. In § 208.30, revise the section heading and add a sentence at the end of paragraph (e)(5) to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Credible fear determinations involving stowaways and applicants for admission who are found inadmissible pursuant to section 212(a)(6)(C) or 212(a)(7) of the Act or whose entry is limited or suspended under section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Act.
* * * * *

(e) * * *

(5) * * * If the alien is found to be an alien described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3), then the asylum officer shall enter a negative credible fear determination with respect to the alien's application for asylum. The Department shall nonetheless place the alien in proceedings under section 240 of the Act for full consideration of the alien's claim for withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the Act, or for withholding or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture if the alien establishes a reasonable fear of persecution or torture. However, if an alien fails to establish, during the interview with the asylum officer, a reasonable fear of either persecution or torture, the asylum officer will provide the alien with a written notice of decision, which will be subject to immigration judge review consistent with paragraph (g) of this section, except that the immigration judge will review the reasonable fear findings under the reasonable fear standard instead of the credible fear standard described in paragraph (g) and in 8 CFR 1208.30(g).

* * * * *
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Approved:

Dated: November 5, 2018.

Kirstjen M. Nielsen,

Secretary of Homeland Security.

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DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Accordingly, for the reasons set forth in the preamble, the Attorney General amends 8 CFR parts 1003 and 1208 as follows:

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PART 1003—EXECUTIVE OFFICE FOR IMMIGRATION REVIEW

End Part Start Amendment Part

4. The authority citation for part 1003 continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 5 U.S.C. 301; 6 U.S.C 521; 8 U.S.C. 1101, 1103, 1154, 1155, 1158, 1182, 1226, 1229, 1229a, 1229b, 1229c, 1231, 1254a, 1255, 1324d, 1330, 1361, 1362; 28 U.S.C. 509, 510, 1746; sec. 2 Reorg. Plan No. 2 of 1950; 3 CFR, 1949-1953 Comp., p. 1002; section 203 of Pub. L. 105-100, 111 Stat. 2196-200; sections 1506 and 1510 of Pub. L. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1527-29, 1531-32; section 1505 of Pub. L. 106-554, 114 Stat. 2763A-326 to -328.

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5. In § 1003.42, add a sentence at the end of paragraph (d) to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Review of credible fear determination.
* * * * *

(d) * * * If the alien is determined to be an alien described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) or 1208.13(c)(3) and is determined to lack a reasonable fear under 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5), the immigration judge shall first review de novo the determination that the alien is described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) or 1208.13(c)(3) prior to any further review of the asylum officer's negative determination.

* * * * *
Start Part

PART 1208—PROCEDURES FOR ASYLUM AND WITHHOLDING OF REMOVAL

End Part Start Amendment Part

6. The authority citation for part 1208 continues to read as fol1ows:

End Amendment Part Start Authority

Authority: 8 U.S.C. 1101, 1103, 1158, 1226, 1252, 1282; Title VII of Public Law 110-229.

End Authority Start Amendment Part

7. In § 1208.13, add paragraph (c)(3) to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Establishing asylum eligibility.
* * * * *

(c) * * *

(3) Additional limitation on eligibility for asylum. For applications filed after November 9, 2018, an alien shall be ineligible for asylum if the alien is subject to a presidential proclamation or other presidential order suspending or limiting the entry of aliens along the southern border with Mexico that is issued pursuant to subsection 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Act on or after November 9, 2018 and the alien enters the United States after the effective date of the proclamation or order contrary to the terms of the proclamation or order. This limitation on eligibility does not apply if the proclamation or order expressly provides that it does not affect eligibility for asylum, or expressly provides for a waiver or exception that makes the suspension or limitation inapplicable to the alien.

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8. In § 1208.30, revise the section heading and add paragraph (g)(1) to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Start Printed Page 55953
Credible fear determinations involving stowaways and applicants for admission who are found inadmissible pursuant to section 212(a)(6)(C) or 212(a)(7) of the Act or whose entry is limited or suspended under section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Act.
* * * * *

(g) * * *

(1) Review by immigration judge of a mandatory bar finding. If the alien is determined to be an alien described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) or 1208.13(c)(3) and is determined to lack a reasonable fear under 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5), the immigration judge shall first review de novo the determination that the alien is described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) or 1208.13(c)(3). If the immigration judge finds that the alien is not described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) or 1208.13(c)(3), then the immigration judge shall vacate the order of the asylum officer, and DHS may commence removal proceedings under section 240 of the Act. If the immigration judge concurs with the credible fear determination that the alien is an alien described in 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) or 1208.13(c)(3), the immigration judge will then review the asylum officer's negative decision regarding reasonable fear made under 8 CFR 208.30(e)(5) consistent with paragraph (g)(2) of this section, except that the immigration judge will review the findings under the reasonable fear standard instead of the credible fear standard described in paragraph (g)(2).

* * * * *
Start Signature

Dated: November 6, 2018.

Jefferson B. Sessions III,

Attorney General.

End Signature End Supplemental Information

Footnotes

1.  As noted below, in FY 2018, approximately 171,511 aliens entered illegally between ports of entry, were apprehended by CBP, and were placed in expedited removal. Approximately 59,921 inadmissible aliens arrived at ports of entry and were placed in expedited removal. Furthermore, ICE arrested some 3,102 aliens and placed them in expedited removal.

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2.  See, e.g., Eliminating Exception to Expedited Removal Authority for Cuban Nationals Arriving by Air, 82 FR 4769 (Jan. 17, 2017); Designating Aliens For Expedited Removal, 69 FR 48877; Implementation of the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada Regarding Asylum Claims Made in Transit and at Land Border Ports-of-Entry, 69 FR 10620 (March 8, 2004); New Rules Regarding Procedures for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, 63 FR 31945 (June 11, 1998); Asylum Procedures, 65 FR 76121; Regulations Concerning the Convention Against Torture, 64 FR 8478 (Feb. 19, 1999).

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3.  Nothing about this screening process or in this interim rule would alter the existing procedures for processing alien stowaways under the INA and associated regulations. An alien stowaway is unlikely to be subject to 8 CFR 208.13(c)(3) and 1208.13(c)(3) unless a proclamation specifically applies to stowaways or to entry by vessels or aircraft. INA 101(a)(49), 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(49). Moreover, an alien stowaway is barred from being placed into section 240 proceedings regardless of the level of fear of persecution he establishes. INA 235(a)(2), 8 U.S.C. 1225(a)(2). Similarly, despite the incorporation of a reasonable-fear standard into the evaluation of certain cases under credible-fear procedures, nothing about this screening process or in this interim rule implicates existing reasonable-fear procedures in 8 CFR 208.31 and 1208.31.

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4.  All references to the number of aliens subject to expedited removal in FY 2018 reflect data for the first three quarters of the year and projections for the fourth quarter of FY 2018. It is unclear whether the ICE arrests reflect additional numbers of aliens processed at ports of entry. Another approximately 130,211 aliens were subject to reinstatement, meaning that the alien had previously been removed and then unlawfully entered the United States again. The vast majority of reinstatements involved Mexican nationals. Aliens subject to reinstatement who express a fear of persecution or torture receive reasonable-fear determinations under 8 CFR 208.31.

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5.  DHS sometimes calculates credible-fear grant rates as a proportion of all cases (positive, negative, and closed cases). Because this rule concerns the merits of the screening process and closed cases are not affected by that process, this preamble discusses the proportions of determinations on the merits when describing the credible-fear screening process. This preamble does, however, account for the fact that some proportion of closed cases are also sent to section 240 proceedings when discussing the number of cases that immigration judges completed involving aliens referred for a credible-fear interview while in expedited-removal proceedings.

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6.  Stowaways are the only category of aliens who would receive a positive credible-fear determination and go to asylum-only proceedings, as opposed to section 240 proceedings, but the number of stowaways is very small. Between FY 2013 and FY 2017, an average of roughly 300 aliens per year were placed in asylum-only proceedings, and that number includes not only stowaways but all classes of aliens subject to asylum-only proceedings. 8 CFR 1208.2(c)(1) (describing 10 categories of aliens, including stowaways found to have a credible fear, who are subject to asylum-only proceedings).

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7.  Asylum officers decided 53,205 of these cases on the merits and closed the remaining 10,357 (but sent many of the latter to section 240 proceedings). Specifically, 25,673 Honduran nationals were interviewed; 21,476 of those resulted in a positive screening on the merits, 2,436 received a negative finding, and 1,761 were closed—meaning that 90% of all Honduran cases involving a merits determination resulted in a positive finding, and 10% were denied. Some 13,433 Salvadoran nationals were interviewed; 11,034 of those resulted in a positive screening on the merits 1,717 were denied, and 682 were closed—meaning that 86% of all Salvadoran cases involving a merits determination resulted in a positive finding, and 14% were denied. Some 24,456 Guatemalan nationals were interviewed; 14,183 of those resulted in a positive screening on the merits, 2,359 were denied, and 7,914 were closed—meaning that 86% of all Guatemalan cases involving a merits determination resulted in a positive finding, and 14% were denied. Again, the percentages exclude closed cases so as to describe how asylum officers make decisions on the merits.

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8.  Immigration judges in 2018 reversed 18% (288) of negative credible-fear determinations involving Hondurans, 19% (241) of negative credible-fear determinations involving Salvadorans, and 17% (285) of negative credible-fear determinations involving Guatemalans.

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9.  All descriptions of case outcomes before immigration judges reflect initial case completions by an immigration judge during the fiscal year unless otherwise noted. All references to applications for asylum generally involve applications for asylum, as opposed to some other form of protection, but EOIR statistics do not distinguish between, for instance, the filing of an application for asylum or the filing of an application for statutory withholding. As noted, an application for asylum is also deemed an application for other forms of protection, and whether an application will be for asylum or only for some other form of protection is often a post-filing determination made by the immigration judge (for instance, because the one-year filing bar for asylum applies).

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10.  These percentages are even higher for particular nationalities. In FY 2018, immigration judges adjudicated 7,151 cases involving Hondurans whose cases originated with a credible-fear referral in expedited-removal proceedings. Of that 7,151, only 49% (3,509) filed an application for asylum, and 44% (3,167) had their cases completed with an in absentia removal order because they failed to appear. Similarly, immigration judges adjudicated 5,382 cases involving Guatemalans whose cases originated with a credible-fear referral; only 46% (2,457) filed an asylum application, and 41% (2,218) received in absentia removal orders. The 8,251 Salvadoran cases had the highest rate of asylum applications (filed in 65% of cases, or 5,341), and 31% of the total cases (2,534) involved in absentia removal orders. Numbers for Mexican nationals reflected similar trends. In FY 2018, immigration judges adjudicated 3,307 cases involving Mexican nationals who progressed to section 240 proceedings after being referred for a credible-fear interview; 49% of them filed applications for asylum in these proceedings, and 25% of the total cases resulted in an in absentia removal order.

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11.  The Departments estimated this number by using the approximately 171,511 aliens in FY 2018 who were referred to expedited removal after crossing illegally between ports of entry and being apprehended by CBP. That number excludes the approximately 3,102 additional aliens who were arrested by ICE, because it is not clear at this time whether such aliens were ultimately processed at a port of entry. The Departments also relied on the fact that approximately 41% of aliens in expedited removal in FY 2018 triggered credible-fear screening.

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12.  The Departments estimated this number by using the approximately 59,921 aliens in FY 2018 who were referred to expedited removal after presenting at a port of entry. That number excludes the approximately 3,102 additional aliens who were arrested by ICE, because it is not clear at this time whether such aliens were ultimately processed at a port of entry. The Departments also relied on the fact that approximately 41% of aliens in expedited removal in FY 2018 triggered credible-fear screening.

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13.  See, e.g., Visas: Documentation of Nonimmigrants Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as Amended, 81 FR 5906, 5907 (Feb. 4, 2016) (interim rule citing good cause to immediately require additional documentation from certain Caribbean agricultural workers to avoid “an increase in applications for admission in bad faith by persons who would otherwise have been denied visas and are seeking to avoid the visa requirement and consular screening process during the period between the publication of a proposed and a final rule”); Suspending the 30-Day and Annual Interview Requirements From the Special Registration Process for Certain Nonimmigrants, 68 FR 67578, 67581 (Dec. 2, 2003) (interim rule claiming good cause exception for suspending certain automatic registration requirements for nonimmigrants because “without [the] regulation approximately 82,532 aliens would be subject to 30-day or annual re-registration interviews” over six months).

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14.  See, e.g., Eliminating Exception to Expedited Removal Authority for Cuban Nationals Arriving by Air, 82 FR at 4770 (claiming good cause exception because the ability to detain certain Cuban nationals “while admissibility and identity are determined and protection claims are adjudicated, as well as to quickly remove those without protection claims or claims to lawful status, is a necessity for national security and public safety”); Designating Aliens For Expedited Removal, 69 FR at 48880 (claiming good cause exception for expansion of expedited-removal program due to “[t]he large volume of illegal entries, and attempted illegal entries, and the attendant risks to national security presented by these illegal entries,” as well as “the need to deter foreign nationals from undertaking dangerous border crossings, and thereby prevent the needless deaths and crimes associated with human trafficking and alien smuggling operations”).

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15.  For instance, since 2004, the United States and Mexico have been operating under a memorandum of understanding concerning the repatriation of Mexican nationals. Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Homeland Security of the United States of America and the Secretariat of Governance and the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of the United Mexican States, on the Safe, Orderly, Dignified and Humane Repatriation of Mexican Nationals (Feb. 20, 2004). Article 6 of that memorandum reserves the movement of third-country nationals through Mexico and the United States for further bilateral negotiations.

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[FR Doc. 2018-24594 Filed 11-8-18; 4:15 pm]

BILLING CODE 4410-30-P; 9111-97-P