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Asylum Officers to the U.S. Government: We Did Not Sign Up for This

"Fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation."

by Morgan Baskin
Jun 27 2019, 3:21pm

The Trump administration is endangering lives by forcing U.S. asylum applicants to remain in Mexico, which is “simply not safe” for Central Americans, a group of immigration officers argued in court this week.

In a court filing submitted Wednesday, first reported by the Washington Post, a labor union representing asylum officers within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency argued that the government is violating federal and international law by forcing migrants awaiting their immigration hearings to remain in Mexico.

The filing is a direct, public criticism of the Trump administration’s immigration policy by his own employees.

In a briefing submitted to a California appellate court, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924 — the labor union representing roughly 2,500 federal workers — wrote that asylum officers “are duty-bound to protect vulnerable asylum-seekers from persecution.”

“They should not be forced to honor departmental directives that are fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international and domestic legal obligations,” the union submitted in its court briefing.

Implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols program aims to keep those seeking asylum out of the U.S. while a court weighs their claims. It has sent 12,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico since January, the Post also reports.

Asylum officers listen to applicants’ stories, evaluate their risk of harm in their home countries, and determine whether they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. But as Vox reported in May, supervisors frequently block or overturn decisions to allow migrants to stay in the U.S., putting them in physical danger upon their return to Mexico.

One asylum officer told Vox that they no longer feel they have the authority to adjudicate cases.

“It’s like someone else sticking their hand inside me, like a glove,” an employee told the outlet. Also in its court filing, the AFGE wrote that the new protocol was “something that [employees] did not sign up to do when they decided to become asylum and refugee officers for the United States government.”

A lower court judge temporarily halted MPP in April, but a three-judge appellate allowed the program to resume in May while the court considers the policy.

The Department of Homeland Security has argued that the MPP program is necessary because it “will help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system [...] and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need.”

Cover: A group of 17 migrant people crosses the Río Bravo, trying to reach the United States from the Mexican border city of Piedras Negras. They wait in the middle of the river to be captured by the american border control boats, that will take them to the american side of the river and will arrest them. Piedras Negras, february 19, 2019. (Photo by Roberto Bonet Negrete/NurPhoto via Getty Images)