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Asylum Officers, Sen. Merkley, and Internal DHS Report Spotlight Dangers of Remain in Mexico Policy

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Civil Servants Deserve High Praise for Standing up for American Values

“It only took Doug Stephens two days to decide: He wasn’t going to implement President Trump’s latest policy to restrict immigration, known as Remain in Mexico. The asylum officer wouldn’t interview any more asylum seekers only to send them back to danger in Mexico,” Los Angeles Times’ Molly O’Toole writes. Stephens – faced with the choice of losing his career or implementing an illegal, immoral and racist policy – is bravely standing up to this administration and spotlighting the wide array of issues with the Remain in Mexico (MPP) policy. 

Stephens is one of many asylum officers facing the dilemma, as outlined in Senator Merkley’s (D-OR) must-read report: Shattered Refuge. “In June, the union representing US asylum officers asked a federal court to end the policy, saying the directives are ‘fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international and domestic legal obligations,’” as CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez’s reports

In addition to the issues identified by asylum officers, the Department of Homeland Security internal report finds similar problems with MPP. As BuzzFeed’s Hamed Aleaziz details:

A team of senior Department of Homeland Security officials who examined a controversial Trump administration program to keep asylum-seekers in Mexico found that US border officials have not only prevented immigrants from making a claim for protection at the border with asylum officers but appeared to have pressured the officers to deny them entry into the US, according to a draft government report obtained by BuzzFeed News recommending significant and wide-ranging improvements to the program…’ The big takeaway from it is that MPP is not working,’ said a former DHS official. ‘This seems to align with every criticism you hear of MPP. Some of these recommendations are phrased mildly but suggest they found serious problems that need to be remedied.’

The MPP policy is not only ineffective, it’s dangerous. Once in Mexico, asylum seekers are confronted with life-threatening violence and diseases. As the Associated Press’ Nomaan Merchant reports

A humanitarian crisis is worsening each day at the camp across the border from Brownsville, Texas, where a large American flag flapping in the wind is visible from more than 700 tents. As many as 2,000 immigrants are waiting for U.S. court hearings amid deteriorating medical and sanitary conditions.

Safe drinking water is scarce. People regularly line up for a half-hour to fill milk jugs and buckets with water. Some people bathe and wash their clothes in the Rio Grande, known to be contaminated with E. coli and other bacteria. 

…The conditions show the health risks associated with the Remain in Mexico policy — which many have criticized for sending migrants to dangerous border towns — and how nonprofit groups are struggling to provide health care and other basic services without more support from the U.S. or Mexican governments.

Doctors Without Borders says that in three weeks in October, it did 178 consultations at the camp in Matamoros for conditions that included diarrhea, hypertension, diabetes, psychiatric conditions and asthma. More than half the patients were younger than 15.

According to Douglas Rivlin, Communications Director of America’s Voice, “Trump and his Republican allies are throwing the baby out with the bathwater by preventing all asylum claims – even legitimate ones – from reaching the inside of a U.S. court because they think all asylum claims are illegitimate. In fact, we have a longstanding asylum process and a legal procedure for evaluating asylum claims and sorting the legitimate ones from the illegitimate ones under our law. But Trump and the Republicans are starving that system of resources, erecting barriers to fair and reasonable adjudications, and returning people to danger in Mexico or the very countries they are trying to escape. 

“Now the truth is coming out about the Remain in Mexico policy, the danger people are facing because of our policies to keep them out, and brave witnesses and whistleblowers, who are charged with implementing this travesty of justice, are coming forward to say this just isn’t right. Once again, the Trump priority – driven by Stephen Miller’s adherence to a strictly white nationalist view of the United States – is being shown for what it is: a miscarriage of justice and a violation of American laws and values aimed simply at keeping people out. We owe a great debt as a nation to the whistleblowers and witnesses who are coming forward to tell the truth and who are standing up for women, children and families fleeing for their lives and seeking safety under U.S. and international law in the United States and, instead of refuge, are being turned away.”