The Arizona Republic

Lawsuit: U.S. turning away asylum seekers

- Rafael Carranza

U.S. border officials have instituted a “turnback policy,” working hand in hand with their Mexican counterpar­ts to deter migrants from seeking asylum in the United States, migrants-rights groups allege in a recent court filing.

The documents filed in a California federal court seek to establish that it has become formal U.S. policy to systematic­ally turn away migrants legally seeking asylum at ports of entry along the U.S.Mexico border.

Documents filed Friday aimed to show that U.S. and Mexican border officials use intimidati­on and misinforma­tion to prevent asylum claims and force migrants to return to Mexico where they are vulnerable to abuse and violence.

“These methods include ... a ‘metering’ or waitlist system that creates unreasonab­le and life-threatenin­g delays in processing asylum seekers. Instructin­g asylum seekers to wait on the bridge, in the preinspect­ion area, or at a shelter until there is adequate space at the POE (port of entry); or simply asserting to asylum seekers that they cannot be processed because the POE is ‘full’ or ‘at capacity,’ ” the filing states.

The amended filing is part of a class action lawsuit filed in 2017 against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the Los Angeles- and Tijuanabas­ed migrant aid group Al Otro Lado Inc. and more than a dozen migrants.

In recent months, numerous media reports have documented migrants waiting for weeks on the Mexican side of the border to talk to U.S. immigratio­n officers. In Arizona, dozens of migrants are camping in Nogales, Sonora, where wait times to be processed reached up to three weeks, migrant advocates say.

Elsewhere on the border, such as in Texas, migrant groups say they’ve documented many cases of Mexican and U.S. immigratio­n officials turning away migrants, or not even allowing them to approach the border crossings.

The lawsuit — filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Immigratio­n Council, Center for Constituti­onal Rights, and a Los Angeles-based law firm — said the practice had been widespread since 2016, under the administra­tion of President Barack Obama, but that it has intensifie­d since President Donald Trump took office.

In August, a judge in San Diego ruled the case could proceed as a class action lawsuit. But while the judge acknowledg­ed patterns and practices of turning back migrants, the judge also signaled that the plaintiffs had not proven the existence of a formal “turnback policy” coming from top leaders at Customs and Border Protection.

Melissa Crow, senior supervisin­g attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigratio­n Justice Project and a co-counsel in the case, said the amended filing, submitted Friday at a San Diego courthouse, aims to do that.

“We’ve gotten a lot more evidence that there is a policy coming from CBP officials at the highest levels and we’ve seen an escalation under the Trump administra­tion of the pattern of turnbacks,” she said.

Among the evidence listed in the filing are redacted, internal Customs and Border Protection documents including an email sent to port directors in south Texas in November 2016 directing them to “meet with your INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración, Mexico’s immigratio­n agency) counterpar­t and request they control the flow of aliens to the port of entry.”

The documents also cite as further evidence of a formal policy public statements of Customs and Border Protection officials, and tweets from Trump railing against a migrant caravan bound for the San Diego border during the summer.

“When people, with or without children, enter our Country, they must be told to leave without our Country being forced to endure a long and costly trial. Tell the people, ‘OUT,’ and they must leave, just as they would if they were standing in your front lawn,” Trump wrote in a July 5 tweet.

Customs and Border Protection said they were unable to comment because the litigation is in progress. However, in the past, the agency has said it processes people as expeditiou­sly as possible, but other factors, such as staffing and a focus on drug interdicti­on, affect its ability to process asylum seekers.

In an interview last month with the USA Today Network, Customs and Border Protection Commission­er Kevin McAleenan, who is named in the lawsuit, said agents are doing the best they can given their resources, but that capacity is a lingering issue at the border ports of entry.

“They weren’t built for significan­t numbers of asylum seekers,” he said.

Migrant advocates said they have no way to verify the capacity of the ports of entry, whether CBP is truly facing limitation­s on space, or if they’re intentiona­lly causing delays.

 ??  ??
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA