Illegal Expulsions by the Department of Homeland Security under the March 20, 2020 Order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
April 16, 2020
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Director Redfield:
Our 125 legal, faith-based, humanitarian, human rights and community organizations write to vehemently object to the Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) use of the COVID-19 pandemic and the March 20 order of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) to carry out the Trump administration’s long-held goal of closing the southern border to people seeking life-saving protection in the United States.
For more than a year the administration has been turning back many asylum-seekers and other migrants to Mexico under the so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (“MPP”). But now border officers are blocking essentially all asylum-seekers and vulnerable children from requesting protection and returning them to places where their lives are at risk without even the veneer of sham MPP hearings. These expulsions violate U.S. refugee, immigration and anti-trafficking laws passed by Congress, as well as due process and U.S. treaty obligations to protect people at risk of return to persecution and torture, and are completely contrary to child welfare standards. We urge DHS to immediately halt these illegal and immoral policies, restore the rule of law at our borders, protect unaccompanied children, and implement practices informed by public health principles to safely process those seeking refuge in the United States.
The March 20 CDC order, which appears to rely on misleading and unsubstantiated assertions by DHS, and an accompanying rule, purport to empower DHS to immediately turn back migrants at the border without affording any legal process whatsoever. An internal guidance document reportedly circulated by DHS to U.S. Border Patrol instructs agents to rapidly expel individuals encountered at the border, including unaccompanied children as well as Mexicans and other nationals who attempt to request asylum. Thousands of individuals including reportedly at least 400 children – from Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico – have already been expelled to Mexico. In some cases Border Patrol pushes unaccompanied children back into Mexico with adults whose relationship to the child has not been checked, placing children at risk of trafficking. The Border Patrol turns back some in the middle of the night in dangerous areas, putting them at even greater risk of kidnapping and assault. Border Patrol officers are also rapidly expelling some non-Mexican nationals to their home countries, including asylum-seekers and hundreds of unaccompanied children, without any of the legal processes due to them under U.S. refugee, immigration and anti-trafficking laws. At U.S. ports of entry, Customs and Border Protection officers turn away and expel asylum-seekers and are not processing those who have waited months to request protection.