Humanitarian groups at ports of entry worry about Trump’s new asylum ban

Ahead of the arrival of the exodus of Central American migrants, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation Friday that may significantly curtail eligibility for people to claim asylum at the US/Mexico border.

According to Politico, the regulation would bar migrants who have been caught entering the US between ports of entry from seeking asylum.

By imposing such restriction to asylum-seekers, the proclamation claims that it would have the effect of “channel[ing] inadmissible aliens to ports of entry, where such aliens could seek to enter and would be processed in an orderly and controlled manner.”

The announcement has unleashed wide humanitarian and legal backlash due to the proclamation’s intent to curtail and restrict basic asylum protections.

In response to the proclamation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging the “president’s new asylum ban.”

In a tweet on Friday, the ACLU said, “Neither the president nor his cabinet can override the clear commands of our law, but that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. We’ll see him in court.”

In a written statement, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), a non-profit that provides direct legal services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, said the new rule is “radical” and “violates US law.” Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy said that the President is “attempting to unilaterally upend the Refugee Act, which passed with strong bipartisan congressional support and has been part of US law for nearly 40 years.”

“Under the Refugee Act, the U.S. government has a legal obligation to allow people who come to our border and ask for asylum to have the opportunity to have their requests heard, no matter where or how they cross the border,” McCarthy added.
For many residents living along the border, the executive action is causing outrage due to what they describe as a wide and extreme disparity between the Trump administration’s implication that asylum-seekers should turn themselves in at a port of entry and what residents say is the reality on the ground.

Brendon Tucker, a regular volunteer at both the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge and the Gateway International Bridge said that since the summer, there has been a steady increase in the wait time for asylum seekers on the bridges. Recently, the wait time has gone up dramatically.

“The wait times have gone from a few days to upwards of a month,” said Tucker. “When we started doing this in July, people were waiting for about five to 10 days. Now people are waiting in between 20 and 30 [days]. The wait times have gone up slowly but surely. Very recently they just skyrocketed.”

This move means the waiting time on the bridges will increase even more. DHS and DOJ propose that “processing times at ports of entry would be slower in the absence of additional resources or policies that would encourage aliens to enter at less busy ports.”

In some cases, however, asylum-seekers have no other choice but to remain at the bridges they first arrive at. Their transportation resources are scarce and at most bridges, asylum seekers are all experiencing the same lengthy wait times. At times, migrants are too frail to physically move to another port of entry.

“All the bridges are packed,” said Tucker. “There is no ‘other bridge’ option.”

A volunteer with the Angry Tias and Abuelas, Elisa Filippone, who also visits the Brownsville-Matamoros bridge, said this news is just another obstacle for asylum seekers. The Angry Tias and Abuelas provide humanitarian aid to asylum-seekers who camp out at international ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley as they wait to be processed by border patrol.

“We all see it,” said Filippone. “[The asylum seekers] are in limbo. The US needs to let them in and register them and find dignifying housing for them. If they have been releasing people from detention centers by the hundreds, [which] we see at the McAllen bus stations. That’s room that’s being freed. We’ve seen [up to] 500 people in a day at the McAllen bus station. There’s room for more people to come in. Why aren’t we using it?”

There is also a concern that the policy will criminalize asylum-seekers in a way that not only ignores the logistical bottlenecks currently occurring at ports of entry but that also fails to consider the urgent safety concerns that can prevent some asylum-seekers from being able to wait for “space” to open up.

In a June 2018 report, the Center for Migration Studies called the northern border area of Mexico “among the most dangerous areas of the country” and laid out the various risks that asylum-seekers and migrants are often exposed to at the border, including murder, kidnapping, fraud, extortion, robbery, and assault (both sexual and non-sexual). Amidst such life and death scenarios, the report elaborates some asylum-seekers “are forced to seek asylum by means of illegal entry between POEs.” If arrested, asylum-seekers could be charged with illegal entry and, consequent to the new asylum rule, be barred from seeking asylum.

It’s a likely scenario DHS must be aware can occur, especially following their own analysis of the effects of the implementation of the Trump administration zero-tolerance policy.

Indeed, in an investigation led by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), DHS acknowledges a causal relationship between CBP’s policies at ports of entry and unauthorized entry. In a September 2018 report, the OIG said “while the stated intentions behind metering may be reasonable, the practice may have unintended consequences. For instance, OIG saw evidence that limiting the volume of asylum-seekers entering at ports of entry leads some aliens who would otherwise seek legal entry into the United States to cross the border illegally.”

When the OIG questioned Border Patrol, one supervisor admitted that “the Border Patrol sees an increase in illegal entries when aliens are metered at ports of entry.”