US asylum officials have criticized President Donald Trump’s policy of forcing migrants to stay in Mexico pending US immigration hearings, urging a federal appeals court on Wednesday to block the administration to continue the program. Officers, who are tasked with implementing the policy, said it threatened the lives of migrants and was “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation”.
The union representing asylum workers filed a friend of the court brief that sided with the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups challenging Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which has sent 12,000 asylum-seeking migrants to Mexico since January. The policy aims to deter migrants from coming to the United States and keep them out of the country while the courts assess their claims.
The union argued that the policy ran counter to the country’s long-standing view that asylum seekers and refugees should have a way to escape persecution in their home countries, United States adopting its status as a safe haven since even before its founding – with the arrival of the Pilgrims in the 17th century. The union said in court papers that the policy compelled sworn officers to participate in the “widespread violation” of international and federal law – “something they did not undertake to do when they decided to become asylum and refugee officers for the United States government.”
“Asylum workers have a duty to protect vulnerable asylum seekers from persecution,” said the American Federation of Local Government Employees 1924, which represents 2,500 federal workers, including asylum workers, in a 37-page filing with the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. “They should not be forced to honor ministerial directives that are fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation and our international and domestic legal obligations.”
The legal filing is an unusual public rebuke of a sitting president by his staff, and it plunges a highly trained corps of officers who typically operate in secret into a public legal battle over one of the world’s toughest immigration policies. prized by Trump.
Under Trump, the Asylum Division has become a target of internal anger, often besieged for approving most initial asylum applications and sending migrants to immigration court for a full hearing. Trump administration officials say most cases are denied. Last week, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli outraged some asylum officers by sending staff an email they thought would criticize them for approving so many initial checks.
Trump has placed Cuccinelli, an immigration hardliner and former Virginia attorney general, in his move to toughen immigration policy, and the union’s legal record appears to directly contradict that. approach.
The policy was challenged in federal court, with a lower court judge temporarily suspending the MPP in April, saying it likely violated federal law. A three-judge appeals panel allowed the program to resume in May while the court considers the policy.
Justice Department lawyers said in court papers that the migrants were making thousands of false claims because they were virtually guaranteeing their release in the United States pending a delayed immigration court hearing. The U.S. government cannot process migrant cases quickly or detain children for long periods of time, which means some migrants may stay in the country for months or years waiting for their case to unfold.
Ending the program, the government’s lawyers said, “would immediately and substantially harm the government’s ability to manage the crisis on our southern border.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on the case Wednesday. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, did not respond to a request for comment.
The influx of Central American migrants to the southern border has overwhelmed the US immigration system. It has also led to a political tussle between congressional Democrats and the White House over overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at border facilities amid Trump’s push for stronger enforcement. More than 144,000 migrants were arrested in May after crossing the southern border, the highest monthly total for more than a decade, and asylum applications have skyrocketed.
Trump administration officials pleaded with Congress this week to approve emergency funding for the humanitarian crisis on the border. The Senate responded on Wednesday, passing a $4.6 billion emergency spending measure amid debates over the treatment of migrants and the risks they face when trying to enter the United States, with a graphic photo of a migrant and his young daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande as the backdrop.
In the Federal Court filing, asylum workers say they are applying the laws as Congress intended, based on international approaches and treaties developed after World War II and the atrocities associated with the ‘Holocaust. Federal laws are based on the principle of “non-refoulement” – meaning that people should not be returned to countries where they could be harmed or killed. To qualify for asylum, migrants must prove that they are harmed because of their “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.
Asylum officers say Mexico is too dangerous for Central American asylum seekers, especially women; gay, lesbian or transgender people; and indigenous minority groups. They cited State Department reports showing that violence and gang activity are widespread and crimes are rarely solved.
“Mexico is simply not safe for asylum seekers from Central America,” the filing said, noting that gangs who terrorize migrants in their home countries could easily follow them to Mexico. “And despite professing its commitment to protecting the rights of asylum seekers, the Mexican government has proven unable to provide that protection.”
Asylum workers say the U.S. asylum system is “not, as the administration has claimed, fundamentally broken,” and that they could process more cases quickly without sending people back to Mexico.
The MPP is “totally unnecessary, as our immigration system has the foundation and agility to deal with the flow of migrants through our southern border,” the officers wrote.
Officers said they fear the MPP may send asylum seekers back to a country where they are at risk, a violation of federal and international law. They said immigration officers do not ask migrants if they fear persecution or torture in Mexico, and only refer migrants to asylum officers for checks if migrants independently express their fear of return.
The latter benefit from an initial asylum examination, often by telephone or video. But they must prove they are “more likely than not” to be persecuted in Mexico, a higher bar than in immigration courts, where migrants are offered safeguards such as access to lawyers, a reading of their rights and the right to appeal. .
“The MPP, however, provides none of these guarantees,” the officers said.
Authorities are trying to expand the program along the nearly 2,000-mile border and give Mexico time to expand its intake capacity, a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official said.