Letter to Deputy Secretary Mayorkas and Commissioner Kerlikowske – San Ysidro Border
July 27, 2016
Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016
Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Department of Homeland Security
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20229
Re: Return/rejection of asylum seekers at U.S. southern border
Dear Deputy Secretary Mayorkas and Commissioner Kerlikowske:
We are writing to express our concern about reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is turning away asylum seekers who are requesting asylum and U.S. protection at the U.S. southern border San Ysidro port of entry. We urge that adequate staffing be provided immediately to this port of entry and that requests for protection be properly and humanely processed at this port of entry.
As you know the United States is a party to the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the U.S. Congress created a process for requesting asylum and protection in the United States. In order to adhere to its legal obligations, the United States must allow those seeking protection to be assessed through its asylum and protection processes.
Multiple reports indicate that asylum seekers have been turned away by U.S. CBP officers at the San Ysidro port of entry. Some CBP officers have reportedly indicated that the United States does not have sufficient CBP officers to process asylum seekers at this port of entry. Some asylum seekers have reportedly been told that they can’t seek asylum at this port of entry; others have reportedly been told they must return to Mexico to seek U.S. asylum, and will not be able to request protection unless they are brought in by one of the few migrant shelters in Tijuana.
Reports indicate that asylum seekers from Mexico and Haiti have been among those turned away. An asylum seeker from Mexico was turned away twice at the San Ysidro POE and once at Otay Mesa and told that the United States is not accepting any more people for asylum. Just recently, a non-profit attorney working with the ACLU of California witnessed CBP officers at the San Ysidro port of entry turn away a family of Cubans who sought U.S. protection. This family was told to return to Mexico to try to get into a migrant shelter in Mexico, and only then could they approach U.S. officials to request asylum. When a Guatemalan asylum seeker was turned away recently, she reported that a CBP officer told her that the United States is not giving asylum anymore. In addition, recent reports indicate that Mexican authorities are now turning away asylum seekers as they approach the U.S. port-of-entry apparently at the behest of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Not only do such actions undermine international law, and contravene U.S. legal commitments, but they encourage other countries to shirk their legal obligations to refugees as well. For the United States to turn away asylum seekers at its border sends the wrong message to nations around the world that are faced with much larger numbers of asylum seekers and refugees. Many of these countries have far less capacity than the United States. This September, President Obama will host a Leaders Summit on Refugees to encourage other nations to do more to protect and assist the world’s refugees. U.S. leadership must start at home, and the United States should set a strong example for other nations that are facing much greater challenges.
We greatly appreciate your prompt attention to this urgent matter.