Earlier this month, nine US Senators led by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley submitted a letter to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) expressing concern and raising questions about the treatment of people seeking asylum arriving at ports-of-entry.
The letter follows widespread documentation of those seeking asylum being forced to wait days, sometimes even weeks, in Mexico before being allowed to exercise their international right to request asylum at US ports of entry.
In the Rio Grande Valley, CBP agents first started setting up station at the mid-points of US/Mexico international bridges, effectively blocking asylum-seekers from requesting asylum in the US, in June. Since then, Neta has documented more than 100 individuals seekings asylum who have had to wait through the blistering Texas summer sun and severe rain.
The letter, which is addressed to Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, notes that among those who are made to wait days are also hundreds of children. “As many as half of the individuals left to wait in these conditions are children, and some are becoming ill as they wait,” the letter reads.
The letter signees note that many of them have witnessed firsthand asylum-seekers being refused passage at the port of entry.
“Under current domestic law and international agreements that the United States has signed on to, namely the Immigration and Nationality Act and the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Protocol),” the letter continues, “turning away those seeking asylum from entering the United States is not only immoral, but may be unlawful.”
For Christina Patiño-Houle, the network weaver for the Equal Voice Network of the Rio Grande Valley, the Congressional inquiries are welcome.
“Communication and clear public understanding of what’s happening at the ports of entries is really important,” she told Neta. According to Patiño-Houle, this is the reason local organizations and advocates have been asking for a meeting with port officials. Although a meeting has yet to be granted, she says she is “happy that there is also a national attention on what’s happening. We hope that there continues to be increased channels of communication with the public.”
A report released in February by the Center for Migration Studies stated that blocking those seeking asylum at ports-of-entry exposes them to a number of dangers, including homicide, disappearance, kidnapping, trafficking, extortion, robbery, sexual assault, and more. “Bottling” people up at the border, the report states, “increases…exposure to the very threats they are fleeing.”
Although the state of Tamaulipas does not typically rank among the Mexican states with the highest homicide rates, several mass homicides have occurred in the area. Notoriously, in 2010, the bodies of 72 murdered migrants were found in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. The Center for Migration Studies suspects that lower homicide figures in Tamaulipas are likely due to a high number of disappearances and kidnappings. In 2013, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights identified Reynosa, Tamaulipas as a “high-risk site for trafficking crimes against migrants involving repeated mass abductions.” Earlier this year, a group of 480 migrants were rescued from a safe house in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
The senate letter includes a series of pointed questions regarding CBP protocol and policies and any changes that my have been initiated since fiscal year 2017.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are the lone Senators from the Southern border area to have signed the letter.
In the House, on June 29, Representative Leiu and 50 other representatives also issued a letter addressed to the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security which raised similar concerns and called for an immediate investigation. Representatives Shelia Jackson Lee (Houston), Joaquin Castro (San Antonio), Beto O’Rourke, and Marc Veasey (Fort Worth) were the only Texas signees.
The Senate letter requests a response from CBP within the next 30 business days.
To read the full text of the letter, as well as the questions made to CBP, click here.