Last May, a blockbuster report from Human Rights First revealed that agents from Customs and Border Protection have been illegally “turning away foreign nationals who arrive at the Mexican border seeking asylum from persecution in their homelands,” telling some that “Trump says we don’t have to let you in.” This week, legal groups and advocates took action, filing a class action lawsuit against DHS Sec. John Kelly and other federal officials:
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in California alleges that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have used a range of tactics to deny people their right to state their fears of persecution and apply for asylum, including “misrepresentations, threats and intimidation, verbal abuse and physical force.”
In some cases, the complaint alleges, CBP officials have told people that “Donald Trump just signed new laws saying there is no asylum for anyone.” In other instances, border guards have allegedly threatened to take away the foreigners’ children unless they signed forms forgoing their asylum claims or said on camera that they had no fear of returning home.
Two of the asylum seekers turned away at the U.S./Mexico border include a Honduran mother and daughter who had been “repeatedly raped by MS-13 gang members.” But once at the border, agents denied them a chance to apply for asylum. “CBP has been emboldened by the anti-immigrant rhetoric around the election. They are flagrantly breaking the law,” said Al Otro Lado, a legal aid organization and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “They have either been told, or believe, that there should be no more asylum seekers.”
Despite Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and executive orders, border agents claims that the U.S. is no longer accepting asylum seekers at the border are not just demonstrably false and reprehensible, they’re against the law:
The United States has long adhered to international law allowing people to seek asylum if they are being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or other factors. If foreigners entering the United States express a fear of being returned to their home country, Border Patrol officers are required to process them for an interview with an asylum officer, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement on Tuesday, before the lawsuit was filed.
“As we continue to work toward protecting our borders, CBP has not changed any policies affecting asylum procedures,” the statement said.
That may be a smokescreen claim from the top, but on the ground agents have been emboldened by the nativist actions of Trump and others within his administration. Already, CBP has had such a blatant history of corruption that DHS last year said it constituted “a national security threat.” Now lawmakers also set on bloating up the agency with even more immigration agents while doing nothing to provide much-needed oversight. This lawsuit will hopefully do what lawmakers are refusing to do and get this corrupt agency under control.