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CBP Illegally Turning Away Asylum Seekers at the Border

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Customs and Border Protection officials are reportedly turning away asylum seekers at the southern border — which is a violation of international law. Here’s more from a Dallas Morning News editorial:

The U.S. government is illegally turning away asylum seekers at official land crossings all along the southern border.

This is the succinct and chilling conclusion of Crossing the Line, the recent report of our colleagues at Human Rights First, which corroborates several recent reports from journalists, lawyers and social service providers working near the border. At Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, we condemn the actions that are preventing those fleeing violence from accessing established U.S. legal protections. This violates who we are as a country.

When someone arrives at the U.S. border, Customs and Border Protection officers are supposed to ask the person why he or she is traveling to the United States. If the person claims to fear returning  to their home country, the person is supposed to be held so that an asylum officer can conduct a credible fear interview to assess the claim. If the asylum officer finds that the person has a credible fear, the case is turned over to the immigration courts so that a judge can conduct a full hearing on whether the person meets the legal standard for asylum. These processes are required by international and U.S. law.

According to the Human Rights First Report and multiple other sources, Customs and Border Protection agents are telling people who request asylum or claim a fear of returning to their home countries that asylum is not available for them or that people from certain countries, like Mexico, are ineligible. Some have been told that asylum is only for Christians fleeing persecution. Others have been told that the U.S. is no longer processing asylum claims at all.

One example in the report: “Martin, a Mexican journalist whose persecution has been documented by Reporters without Borders requested asylum at the El Paso port of entry and was told that Mexicans could not receive asylum in the United States.”

Asylum seekers have also been subjected to intimidation and deception to get them to abandon claims for asylum. This has occurred even when the person claiming fear had a letter from an attorney and other documents indicating  plans to apply for asylum.

When these people are turned away, their lives are endangered, not just in their home countries but also in Mexico. The report documents kidnappings and murders of people returned to Mexico because they were denied access to our asylum system.

While the administration is touting declining border apprehension numbers as proof that the tough stance on immigration is a deterrent,  we believe that it is at least partly due to border patrol’s refusal to grant people the credible fear interviews they are required to give.

Border Patrol agents are only supposed to ask the initial question about fear of return. They are not trained to evaluate asylum claims or to conduct credible fear interviews. A report issued in 2016 by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom found that Customs and Border Protection does not always properly implement the processes that are supposed to be used to identify asylum seekers.

People fleeing persecution have come to the U.S. for our entire history because we have offered protection and freedom. The actions of these government officers contravene not just our laws, but the very principles our country is supposed to embody.