Asylum Seekers Illegally Turned Away by Customs and Border Protection

For many months, lawyers and advocates have received damning reports from asylum-seeking families, adults, and even unaccompanied minors fleeing Mexico and Central America who have been systematically turned away by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents along the U.S.-Mexico border, from San Ysidro, CA to Brownsville, TX. The Washington Post covered the troubling trend on its front page today.

Friday, the American Immigration Council, in collaboration with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc., Kino Border Initiative, Women’s Refugee Commission, Public Counsel, and Latin America Working Group, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) which lifts up a handful of  illustrative case summaries that demonstrate this disturbing practice and detail the harrowing experiences of the asylum seekers whose attempts to seek humanitarian protection at ports of entry along the border were repeatedly thwarted by CBP officers.

These officers repeatedly misinformed asylum seekers that they had no right to request asylum, that they required visas to enter the United States, that they must first ask for protection from Mexican immigration officials, or that there simply was not enough space for them. As a result, many men, women, and children have been exposed to continued harm and threats while waiting in Mexico for an opportunity to apply for asylum in the United States. The same complaint was filed, today with the Office of Inspector General (OIG), a second oversight department at DHS.

The coalition of advocacy and immigrants’ rights groups urges OCRCL and OIG to conduct an investigation immediately into these allegations of widespread misconduct which amount to flagrant violations of law. The U.S. government is obligated by U.S. and international law to allow noncitizens presenting themselves at U.S. borders and ports of entry to apply for asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. Consistent with these legal protections, asylum seekers should be promptly received and processed by U.S. authorities – not turned away and sent back to the very countries they fled.

Today, this same coalition of organizations, led by the Women’s Refugee Commission, requested a public hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to urge the U.S. government to discontinue these alarming practices and to generate greater public awareness of the international human rights consequences of CBP’s misconduct. In the meantime, these groups will continue to monitor the evolving situation along the border.

Photo by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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