The Trump administration has been engaged in steadily—and unlawfully—turning away asylum-seekers at ports of entry along the southern border in part by claiming a lack of space, saying that facilities there are just too darn full. But unsurprisingly, depositions by whistleblowers in ongoing litigation over this “metering” process reveal this lawlessness was knowingly implemented by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) leadership.
“One whistleblower, a CBP agent stationed in Tecate, said asylum-seekers were being turned away, even though there were available beds and agents to process them,” KPBS reports (and as immigrant rights advocates have long insisted). “In a deposition, the whistleblower is asked, ‘So you were instructed to lie to people when turning them back. Is that right?’ The response: ‘We were instructed, yes.’”
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) late last year filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general over this “metering” process, which at the time dictated that supposedly only a few asylum-seekers per day could be processed due to alleged spacing issues. CBP, the ACLU said in the complaint, had provided no “data to back its lack-of-capacity claims.”
That’s because that was a lie, court documents reveal. KPBS reports that whistleblowers from within the agency initially questioned this policy and went to CBP leadership to ask that it be put on paper. That request was denied, so “[s]ome of these agents, then, in turn, blew the whistle on the agency and gave depositions for the lawsuit,” the report said.
“The point of all the turnaways was to slow the flow of asylum-seekers, to try to reduce the number of asylum-seekers crossing the southern border," Erika Pinheiro, a staff attorney with plaintiff Al Otro Lado, told KPBS. “And they knew that they couldn’t just write that out, because it’s just an incredibly clear violation of the law.”
This unlawful blockading of ports of entry has been laughably obvious. In just one instance last summer, border officials told a family of asylum-seekers at the Paso del Norte port of entry that they were full and turned them away. But unbeknownst to officials, Oregon U.S. Sen Ron Wyden and his staffers were behind them after having visited asylum-seekers at a Mexican shelter. A supervisor was called, and just minutes later they passed through, like they should have been allowed to from the start.
Pinheiro told KPBS that officials’ claims about “a few bad apples” at CBP is bogus, saying “it wasn’t just a few officers who were turning away asylum-seekers, it actually was a policy and practice that was directed from the highest levels.” And why would this agency really even worry about lawbreaking when the impeached president told border agents that same year to go ahead and stomp on U.S. asylum law, because he’d pardon them if they got in trouble?
Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner noted at the time that CNN pondered aloud that it was unclear whether the dangling of pardons was a joke. The true joke is how mainstream media is still so unwilling to state the obvious, which is that under the Trump administration, the U.S. has fallen into authoritarianism complete with willing little foot soldiers eager to aid Trump at any cost, laws be damned.
“This isn’t a rogue agency at this point,” Pinheiro continued to KPBS. “They don’t care about checks put on them by congress or the courts, and they’ve been deployed politically by this administration to shut off all immigration to the United States, but specifically asylum in the United States.”