US asylum officials say Trump’s ‘Stay in Mexico’ policy threatens migrant lives, ask federal court to end it

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US asylum officials have criticized President Trump’s policy of forcing migrants to stay in Mexico pending US immigration hearings, urging a federal appeals court on Wednesday to stop 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.

Read the U.S. Asylum Agents Federal Court filing

The union argued that the policy ran counter to the country’s long-held 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.”

The experimental US policy forces migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed. (Video: Luis Velarde/The Washington Post)

“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 own staff, and it plunges a corps of highly trained officers who typically operate in secret into a public legal battle over one of the country’s immigration policies. most 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.

Cuccinelli posted a series of late-night tweets chastising the union for filing the complaint, saying it was “an attempt by the union to score short-term political points” and that the asylum system “will crumble under this influx of fraud and unsubstantiated claims.

“We have a crisis on our southern border. While the union is playing games in court, @POTUS and this administration are taking action to secure the system and prevent further loss of life,” Cuccinelli wrote, tagging the president in his tweet. “The MPP protects both vulnerable people, while they wait for their hearing, and our asylum system from stifling baseless claims. That’s why protection officers signed up.

The MPP’s 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.

Lawyers for the Justice Department said in court documents that migrants are filing thousands of sham petitions because they are virtually guaranteeing their release in the United States pending a hearing in overdue immigration court. 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.

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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. A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, said “it is a matter of policy that DHS is unable to comment on ongoing litigation.”

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.

This week, Trump administration officials pleaded with Congress to approve emergency funding for the humanitarian crisis on the border. The Senate responded on Wednesday by 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 drowned in the Rio Grande as a 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 workers say Mexico is too dangerous for asylum seekers from Central America, 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. 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 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 safeguards,” 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.

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