Lawsuit claims US has threatened and misled immigrants seeking asylum

Lawsuit claims US has threatened and misled immigrants seeking asylum

Photograph: Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images

Originally published by Yahoo News

US border officials have systemically blocked asylum seekers from accessing the asylum process, in violation of US and international law, according to a lawsuit filed by immigration advocates on Wednesday.

A collection of legal groups brought the suit, which claims that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have put asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border in grave danger by threatening, misleading or rejecting them.

Erika Pinheiro, policy and technology director at Al Otro Lado, a not-for-profit group that is a plaintiff in the case, said immigration agencies had been emboldened since Donald Trump was elected president.

“We’ve seen a drastic increase in illegal turnbacks since Trump was elected in November 2016,” Pinheiro said. “CBP agents, perhaps emboldened by the hateful, anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding the election, have unilaterally undone decades of international diplomacy and domestic legislation by systematically denying refugees the right to seek asylum at the US-Mexico border.”

She said advocacy groups had witnessed an increase in CBP rights abuses in 2014, when there was a surge in unaccompanied children crossing the border to flee violence in Central America, but ultimately “the vast majority” were able to eventually access the asylum process.

There has been another uptick in these abuses, according to the lawsuit, which cites a June 2017 Amnesty International report that documented CBP officials lying to asylum seekers by telling them the asylum process no longer exists and that people would need a “ticket” from Mexican authorities to seek asylum.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, CBP is required to give individuals the right to seek asylum at ports of entry.

The agency has used tactics, including misrepresentations, intimidation and physical force, to deny people access to the asylum seeking process, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for CBP told the Guardian that they could not comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiffs, who were anonymized to protect their safety, claim they have nowhere to turn for safety except for the United States and were turned away from seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border.

Beatrice Doe, a Mexican woman with three children under the age of 16, sought asylum with her children and nephew three times because she was subjected to domestic violence and has been targeted by a drug cartel, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleges she was coerced into signing a document stating she and her children have no fear of returning to Mexico.

Another plaintiff, Jose Doe, fled Honduras after being attacked there by the 18th Street Gang. He sought entry into Texas, but was denied access to the process and ended up fleeing from the border because he was approached by gang members there twice, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said the prevalence of CBP denying people access to the asylum process has been documented by the group, Al Otro Lado, as well as the non-governmental organizations Human Rights First, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Plaintiffs also include the group Al Otro Lado, which said it was harmed because it has had to divert resources to respond to to CBP’s “unlawful conduct” at the border.

Al Otro Lado and individual asylum seekers are represented by the American Immigration Council, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and an international law firm.

Baher Azmy, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the plaintiffs turned to a lawsuit because “the Trump administration, which has expressed unbridled antipathy towards immigrants, shows no signs of abating this illegal practice”.

The lawsuit asks the court to review CBP’s asylum process, declare transgressions from protocol illegal and introduce a mechanism to ensure effective oversight and accountability.

“Finally, because the individual plaintiffs have been stranded on the US-Mexico border, in very precarious conditions and imminent danger, we currently plan to file a motion with the court seeking emergency relief for them,” Azmy said. “We will ask the court to order CBP to remit these individuals to enter the US immediately for purposes of applying for asylum.”

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