Customs and Border Protection Report Reveals Systemic Lies to Asylum Seekers and American Public

WASHINGTON — A new investigation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Of of the Inspector General (OIG) today revealed systemic disinformation given to asylum seekers seeking protection at the U.S. border with Mexico and to the American people who fund the work of Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The report shows that DHS leaders and CBP officers lied about processing capacity in order to justify turning away asylum seekers and then later lied to OIG investigators about it.

“This report makes clear that the Trump administration’s Homeland Security and Border Protection leaders purposefully launched an orchestrated effort to reduce the number of asylum seekers processed by the United States, intending to turn away specific numbers of asylum seekers, and then lied about it to asylum seekers, the American public and Congress,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “Some CBP officers also appeared to provide false information to OIG investigators, which the office euphemistically refers to as providing a ‘range of answers.’ This culture of lies at the Department of Homeland Security has to stop. Not only did the DHS Secretary specifically tell CBP officers not to perform duties required of them under U.S. law, but agency officers also failed to take – or even assess – what else they could have done to address increased numbers of asylum seekers other than lying to them.”

“The report also confirms that these efforts to illegally ‘meter’ or space out entries by asylum seekers into the United States were counterproductive, spurred crossings between ports of entry and exacerbated the very situation officials claimed they were trying to remedy. The chaotic and counterproductive policy of metering also led to growing numbers of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico, placing them in grave danger and sparking even more disorder and chaos.”

The OIG report also found:

  • While then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and CBP leadership urged “asylum seekers to come to ports of entry to be processed . . . DHS and CBP took actions to reduce the number of asylum seekers CBP processed daily”
  • DHS and CBP officials told asylum seekers, journalists and the American public that they were not turning people away, when in fact they were doing so as part of a formal policy
  • This formal policy of turning away asylum seekers led to illegal lists of asylum seekers, maintained in some cases by the refugees themselves, which CBP relied on to reduce the number of families and individual asylum seekers it would process with many asylum seekers waiting months in dangerous Mexican border cities to seek U.S. protection
  • Because of pending litigation OIG did not take a position on the legality of “metering,” but the OIG report is clear on U.S. law and that “the law does not set limits as to the number of asylum seekers the Government can or must process.”

Human Rights First shared its observations of this policy with OIG and was among the first human rights groups to document and report on the illegal practice of metering. In its research from June 2018, Human Rights First observed the illegal asylum turn backs confirmed in today’s OIG report:

The Trump Administration is loudly broadcasting that there is only one “right” way to seek asylum: cross at an official port of entry to avoid criminal prosecution and family separation under the administration’s zero-tolerance policy.

CBP, however, has imposed staggering barriers to impede—or altogether prevent—refugees from seeking asylum at several ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. This includes telling asylum seekers that they “don’t have enough space” or simply turning them away.

Human Rights First documented 125 examples of asylum seekers turned back from U.S. ports of entry by CBP officers [using a] May 2017 report. Among its key findings, the report documents how CBP has unlawfully turned away asylum seekers at official ports of entry, leaving many with no choice but to attempt unauthorized border crossings. In some cases, CBP agents have pressured asylum seekers at ports of entry into recanting their expressions of fear or taken steps to produce false statements. Several advocacy groups sued to challenge these unlawful turn-back practices in July 2017, alleging that CBP was “unlawfully dissuading asylum seekers from pursuing their claims or flatly refusing them entry to the United States.”

To read more about Human Rights First’s research from when the Trump administration implemented this policy as well as subsequent reports, visit:


Published on October 30, 2020


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