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Border securityU.S. border agents illegally turning away asylum seekers at U.S. border: Report

Published 4 May 2017

Human Rights First on Wednesday released a new report documenting dozens of instances in which U.S. border agents illegally turned away asylum seekers from the U.S. southern border. “We’ve documented dozens of cases in which individuals seeking protection from violence and persecution have been unlawfully turned away. These actions by U.S. border agents not only violate U.S. laws and treaty commitments, but put individuals’ lives in danger by sending them into the hands of persecutors, traffickers, or cartels,” said the lead researcher on the report.

Human Rights First on Wednesday released a new report documenting dozens of instances in which U.S. border agents illegally turned away asylum seekers from the U.S. southern border. HRF says that the report, Crossing the Line, follows trips made by Human Rights First researchers to Mexico and seven ports of entry in California, Arizona, and Texas, and includes recommendations for the U.S. government. 

“We’ve documented dozens of cases in which individuals seeking protection from violence and persecution have been unlawfully turned away. These actions by U.S. border agents not only violate U.S. laws and treaty commitments, but put individuals’ lives in danger by sending them into the hands of persecutors, traffickers, or cartels,” said Human Rights First’s Shaw Drake, lead researcher on the report. 

In many instances, as documented in the report, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have illegally turned away asylum seekers without referring them for the required protection screening. This includes a Mexican asylum seeker, who was reportedly told by border patrol that “[Christians] are the people we are giving asylum to, not people like you,” and a Salvadoran child of Christian pastors who witnessed the gang murder of his sister and was turned away after being told, “You cannot ask for asylum right now, you have to be put on a list.”

The report is the culmination of Human Rights First research trips to the border regions of California, Texas, and Arizona, and the Mexican border cities of Reynosa, Matamoros, Nogales, and Tijuana, and is based on 125 cases of individuals and families illegally denied access to U.S. asylum procedures at U.S. ports of entry. Researchers spoke with asylum seekers, attorneys, non-profit legal staff, faith-based groups assisting refugees, and migrant shelter staff in preparing today’s report. 

The report’s findings include:

— The United States is unlawfully turning away some asylum seekers at official ports of entry across the southern border without referring them, as required under U.S. law and treaty commitments, to asylum protection screenings or immigration court proceedings. 

— The United States and Mexico collaborated to block access to U.S. ports of entry and create an appointment system in Tijuana, Mexico that CBP agents continue to use as a reason to turn away asylum seekers. 

— Numerous attorneys, non-profit and private legal service providers, humanitarian workers, and shelter staff report that CBP and Mexican officials are telling migrants that the United States is no longer accepting asylum claims at its borders.

— Asylum seekers turned away by CBP agents have been kidnapped, raped, and robbed upon return to Mexico, and some face continued risk of persecution.

CBP’s practice of turning away asylum seekers from established ports of entry leaves some with little choice but to attempt unauthorized and dangerous border crossings.

— Even when CBP brings asylum seekers into the port of entry facility for processing, agents have in some cases pressured them to recant their statements expressing fear or have taken steps to produce statements falsely indicating no fear was expressed at all. 

“These improper border rejections send the wrong message to countries around the world that are hosting the vast majority of the world’s refugees. The United States should provide global leadership by upholding, rather than violating, international law. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security must ensure that all border agents comply with U.S. law and U.S. treaty commitments,” added Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer.

— Read more in Crossing the Line: U.S. Border Agents Illegally Reject Asylum Seekers (Human Rights First, May 2017)