Michael Knowles, an asylum officer and president of a union representing thousands of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees, told a House committee panel this week that Trump administration policy forcing vulnerable asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in dangerous regions of Mexico is “illegal,” “immoral,” and “the basis for human rights abuses on behalf of our nation.”
“’I don’t know a single asylum officer in the country who believes this is a good policy,’ he said of MPP, also known as ‘Remain in Mexico,’” Roll Call reported. “Carrying out the policy against migrants who asylum officers have assessed to have legitimate claims ‘leaves them feeling like they are complicit in human rights abuses,’ he said.”
That’s because they are. Asylum officers are supposed to make sure vulnerable people aren’t returned to harm—“a foundational principle in U.S. and international law”—but under the inhumane and illegal policy, more than 50,000 asylum-seekers have now been kicked out of the U.S. and sent to Mexican regions the U.S. tells Americans to avoid. Many have been targeted for kidnapping and other violence.
“Witnesses at Tuesday's hearing, which included lawyers and a physician, recounted harrowing stories of kidnapping, sexual assault, and torture experienced by these migrants as they await their court date in the US,” CNN reported. Dr. Todd Schneberk, a member of Physicians for Human Rights, told legislators he’s seen how Remain in Mexico “puts asylum seekers at grave risk, harming a population already expressing severe levels of trauma.”
While the policy was blocked by a federal judge earlier this year, an appeals court later allowed it to continue for now. Knowles told legislators that the policy has also affected career officials who have been dedicated to asylum law. "The morale under this administration has plummeted, not because of people's political views, but because of the way that we have been treated and the way that we have been required to carry out very questionable programs," he said.
Knowles additionally told legislators that none of his colleagues were consulted in creating this policy, and that officers have been threatened if they speak out. “We're just told to carry it out, and, 'If you don't like it, you can go work somewhere else.’” That’s what at least one asylum officer has done. Doug Stephens, believed to be the first asylum officer to formally refuse to implement this policy, resigned rather than to help deport vulnerable families. “You’re literally sending people back to be raped and killed,” he said. “That’s what this is.”