Whistleblowers Allege U.S. Customs and Border Protection Illegally Turned Away Asylum-Seekers

Whistleblowers filed a claim in federal court, alleging that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) knowingly broke the law “when it began turning away asylum-seekers at the southern border,” according to a September 18 KPBS article.

The federal filings “are part of a class-action lawsuit that centers on the thousands of asylum-seekers who have been turned away at Ports-of-Entry across the southern border since late 2016.” Whistleblowers allege that an illegal “policy” exists within CBP: asylum-seekers are allegedly “told to put their names on a list” and await further instructions in border cities, “even if they feared for their safety there.”

CBP has stated that the organization “simply didn’t have the capacity to process” multiple asylum-seekers per day, but the whistleblowers behind the filings allege that “CBP was breaking the law and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leadership knew it,” according to KPBS. A CBP agent working in Tecate who blew the whistle said that “asylum-seekers were being turned away, even though there were available beds and agents to process them,” according to KPBS. In their deposition, the whistleblower stated that agents were “instructed” to lie to asylum-seekers when turning them back.

“Unlike their characterization of events, it wasn’t just a few bad apples, 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,” said Erika Pinheiro, staff attorney with one of the plaintiffs Al Otro Lado, of CBP’s practices. “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,” Pinheiro said. “And they knew that they couldn’t just write that out, because it’s just an incredibly clear violation of the law.”

Pinheiro told KPBS that the whistleblowers’ stories align with the changing leadership of the Trump administration’s DHS. “This isn’t a rogue agency at this point. 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,” Pinheiro said.

The filing “calls for a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, many of whom are still waiting for asylum in Mexico,” according to KPBS. Currently, a hearing in the federal court is scheduled for December in San Diego.

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