USA News

Judge finds U.S. border officials unlawfully turned asylum seekers away from ports of entry

A federal judge in San Diego found that U.S. border officials unlawfully sent asylum seekers away from ports of entry and denied their due process rights to be screened for protection claims.

In an order late Thursday afternoon in a lawsuit filed by legal groups representing Al Otro Lado, an organization that supports migrants in Tijuana, and a class of unnamed asylum seekers, Judge Cynthia Bashant said that since 2016, Customs and Border Protection had violated its legal obligations by instructing its officers to tell asylum seekers to turn around and wait in Mexico to be processed at a later time. This often sent asylum seekers back to danger as many migrants are targeted by gangs, cartels and other criminal groups in Mexico’s northern border towns.

“The risks of waiting in Mexico, often for an extended period of time, are high,” Bashant wrote in her decision. “The evidence submitted shows that turnbacks resulted in asylum seekers’ deaths, assaults, and disappearances after they were returned to Mexico.”

Under U.S. law, when people come to ports of entry without documents that would allow them to enter the United States, if they say they are afraid to return to their home countries, CBP officers are supposed to refer them to asylum officers with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for interviews. Those interviews are a preliminary screening step to determine whether the asylum seekers have “credible fear” — meaning that the reasons they are afraid for returning home could be grounds for asylum. If they pass that screening, they are then referred to immigration court.

The turnbacks, or “metering,” as the policy is often called, started under the Obama administration when the number of Haitians arriving at the San Ysidro Port of Entry increased substantially. Officers began sending Haitians away with instructions to return on a later date.

Then officials began using it for all arriving asylum seekers and along the entire southwest border. The policy was formalized under the Trump administration with “queue management” guidance from the Department of Homeland Security sent out to ports of entry.

CBP began stationing officers at or near the physical border line to prevent asylum seekers from reaching U.S. soil.

This summer, under President Joe Biden, CBP even sent officers to stand near the border line in the vehicle lanes at San Ysidro Port of Entry to prevent asylum seekers from driving onto U.S. soil to request protection.

Government attorneys argued in the case that because the asylum seekers were not yet on U.S. soil, they did not have to be processed according to immigration law.

Bashant found that wasn’t true. She said the law applies to asylum seekers who are in the process of arriving at ports of entry, such as walking up the pedestrian walkway to the port of entry.

She also found that if the government is able to turn back asylum seekers who come to ports of entry, it makes crossing the border illegally — between ports of entry — more favorable. That would go against Congress’ intention in some of the immigration law changes passed in the mid-1990s, she said.

“After over four years, a U.S. federal court concluded what our team at Al Otro Lado has known all along, that CBP’s turning away of asylum seekers from the port of entry and the metering policy is illegal and violates the rights of the individuals and families most in need of our protection,” said Nicole Ramos, director of the organization’s Border Rights Project and one of the first people to call attention to the turnbacks. “Despite DHS’s lies about their capacity to process asylum seekers, the reasons behind why the metering policy exists, and the agency’s destruction of evidence in the case, today the rule of law and justice prevail.”

Melissa Crow, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the legal groups representing the plaintiffs, also celebrated the win.

“The U.S. government’s denial of access to the asylum process at ports of entry is blatantly illegal,” Crow said. “The Court properly recognized the extensive human costs of metering, including the high risk of assault, disappearance, and death, when Customs and Border Protection officers flout their duty to inspect and process asylum seekers and force them to wait in Mexico.”

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.

Bashant has not yet decided what she will order as a remedy in the four-year-old class-action case. She asked both sides to submit additional briefings on the subject by October 1.

She specifically asked for information about what would happen under proposed solutions in light of a Trump era policy known as Title 42 that the Biden administration has kept in place. Title 42, which took effect at the beginning of the pandemic, says that border officials — including Border Patrol agents working between ports of entry— can immediately expel migrants who do not have documents that allow them to be in the United States.



File source

Tags
Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button
Close