Under orders by the Trump administration, thousands of asylum seekers fleeing dangerous living situations are being arbitrarily detained, forced to return to their country of origin, and separated from their children. According to a scathing new report from Amnesty International, these actions by the U.S. government violate human rights.
The U.S. is prohibited from sending asylum seekers back to countries or territories where their lives or freedom would be threatened, either directly or indirectly, yet that is exactly the policy of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Seeking asylum is not a crime, yet the Trump administration continues to treat those who arrive at ports of entry in search of a better life as if they were criminals.
For the report, Amnesty International interviewed dozens of asylum seekers and immigration officials and concluded that the administration deliberately adopted this policy in order to deter immigration to the U.S.
Over the summer, both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen repeatedly insisted that asylum seekers who entered through designated ports of entry at the border would not be arrested.
“We do have a policy of prosecuting adults who flout our laws to come here illegally instead of waiting their turn, claiming asylum at ports of entry. They can go to our ports of entry if they want to claim asylum and they won’t be arrested,” Sessions said in June. “We cannot and will not encourage people to bring their children or other children to the country unlawfully by giving them immunity in the process.”
This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018
This report directly contradicts those statements. In fact, the report found that DHS implemented a de-facto policy of turning away of asylum-seekers along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, including at designated ports of entry, a policy that Nielsen herself admitted exists. She labeled it the “metering” of asylum claims.
We are ‘metering’, which means that if we don’t have the resources to let them [asylum-seekers] in on a particular day, they are going to have to come back. They will have to wait their turn and we will process them as we can, but that’s the way that the law works. Once they come into the United States, we process them. We have asked Congress to fix this loophole. It’s a huge gaping loophole that we need to fix because it is so abused.
Turning away asylum seekers, even if they’re told to come back later, violates a basic principal of international human rights law: the prohibition of “refoulment,” forcing people to return to a place where they might be at risk of serious human rights violations.
Some asylum seekers travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach a port of entry, and have nowhere to go if turned away at the border, forcing them to sleep in line for days or weeks.
According to the report, in late December 2017, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) turned away dozens of asylum seekers at the San Ysidro port of entry. When 24 asylum seekers decided to sleep in line at a plaza on the Mexico side of the border, Mexican municipal police cleared the area and arrested the remaining asylum seekers.
In addition to being turned away at ports of entry, some asylum seekers were also separated from their children. Amnesty International interviewed 15 individuals who were separated from their children by DHS officials, both before and after the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy went into effect.
While the administration hasn’t yet publicly disclosed how many families were separated as a result of the policy, CBP provided data to Amnesty International in September that detailed approximately 8,000 “family units” were separated — a number far greater than the 3,000 previously estimated.
That the Trump administration would lie about its treatment of asylum seekers isn’t too surprising, considering the entire family separation crisis revolved around one huge lie told by Sec. Nielsen — that the U.S. did not have a policy of separating families at the border.
A recently disclosed memo signed by Nielsen in April 2018 proves there was.
“DHS could also permissibly direct the separation of parents or legal guardians and minors held in immigration detention so that the parent or legal guardian can be prosecuted,” the memo said.