New Report Examines Asylum Violations in El Paso as Trump Implements Executive Orders
New York City—As the Trump Administration begins to implement the president’s executive order on immigration enforcement along the southern border, Human Rights First today released a report analyzing the impact of rights-violating practices on asylum seekers in the El Paso region. The report, “Violations at the Border: The El Paso Sector,” finds that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have in some cases ignored protections that Congress created for asylum seekers, including turning away those seeking protection, criminally prosecuting some asylum seekers, and subjecting others to arbitrary and lengthy detentions.
“Instead of implementing policies that betray our nation’s historic commitment to refugees and violate our treaty obligations, the Trump Administration should abandon any scheme that turns away those desperately seeking protection at the U.S. southern border,” said Human Rights First’s Shaw Drake.
According to today’s report, CBP has been turning back some asylum seekers at official ports of entry since mid-2016, a troubling practice that is likely to increase as implementation of last month’s executive order takes effect. For example, it was reported in February 2017 that a CBP agent at the El Paso port of entry told a Mexican journalist seeking protection that Mexicans were not eligible for asylum. In addition, asylum seekers rejected at the El Paso port of entry were turned back to Ciudad Juarez, which was once deemed the most dangerous city in the world and where violence is again on the rise.
President Trump’s January 25 order and Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) implementation memorandum encourage an increase in prosecutions for illegal entry, re-entry, and other entry-related offenses, without any mechanism to exempt asylum seekers from prosecutions. Expansion of such prosecutions and the lack of clear guidance to safeguard asylum seekers will result in further violations of individuals’ human rights and U.S. legal obligations.
Human Rights First also found that President Trump’s executive order and related guidance from DHS are likely to drastically increase detention times for asylum seekers, including in the El Paso region. On any given night, an estimated four thousand immigrants are held in three ICE detention facilities in the El Paso sector. Most recently available data indicates that ICE paroled zero individuals from the Otero County facility and two from the West Texas Detention Facility in Sierra Blanca during a 12-month period.
In today’s report, Human Rights First urges the Trump Administration to:
- Rescind provisions of the “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” executive order that block access to asylum, undermine due process, and violate U.S. treaty commitments.
- Abandon schemes that turn away asylum seekers at U.S. borders in circumvention of U.S. law and treaty commitments and further restrict access to asylum.
- Stop the practice of turning away asylum seekers without referring them for protection processing or asylum proceedings and strengthen safeguards to identify and properly refer individuals in need of protection, including by strengthening the implementation of protection safeguards in the expedited removal process, as recommended by the bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
- Instruct CBP to cease the practice of referring asylum seekers for criminal prosecution on matters relating to their illegal entry or presence, as such prosecutions generally constitute a violation of Article 31 of the Refugee Convention. Instead, agents should refer them to appropriate protection screening interviews. The Department of Justice (DOJ) should also cease initiating such prosecutions.
- Ensure local ICE offices follow the ICE asylum parole directive, work with DOJ to provide access to immigration custody hearings for asylum seekers, and ensure that any future ICE guidance or regulatory changes comply with U.S. treaty commitments under the Refugee Convention and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.