- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Some American border officers are turning away migrants with compelling asylum cases, pushing families to bounce from one border crossing to the next looking for a willing officer to let them make their claims for protection, a leading advocacy group charged in a new report Wednesday.

Human Rights First said officers at American ports of entry are increasingly hostile to asylum-seekers, documenting 125 cases in which persons looking to make claims were instead denied at the ports of entry — often being told by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers that the laws have changed under President Trump.

Mexico is also hindering asylum-seekers, acting as a gatekeeper for the U.S., refusing to set up appointments and putting migrants through a confusing runaround, the report charges.

“Even in cases where asylum-seekers manage to speak with CBP officers, some encounter officers who press them to abandon their asylum requests, appear to make personal, arbitrary decisions on who is eligible for asylum, or fill out CBP interview forms with inaccurate, misleading, or false information,” Human Rights First said in its report.

U.S. officials say they’ve seen a surge in asylum claims in recent years as illegal immigrants have been coached on “magic words” they can use to lodge their claims, earning them access to the interior of the U.S. and a work permit while they wait for their cases to proceed.

By the end of the Obama administration, nearly 10 percent of those crossing the border without permission were demanding asylum. That’s up from less than 1 percent in 2010.

Haitians, Cubans and Central Americans were among the more active asylum claimants, having been taught by family and friends how to make their claims.

“We know that they’re coaching individuals on specifically what to say when they come here, that they just rattle off and they memorize the magic words that they need to say so that they’ll fall within the statute of credible fear,” then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan told Congress late last year.

Under federal law, anyone who shows up at the border and expresses fear of persecution back home is supposed to have his or her claim judged. Border Patrol and CBP officers aren’t supposed to be turning them back or denying their cases, which are to be heard first by asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and oftentimes later by immigration judges.

But Human Rights First said it’s seeing a breakdown in those procedures, causing some asylum-seekers to give up, while others bounce from border crossing to border crossing, looking for someone who will hear their case. Still others forgo the legal process altogether and try to sneak into the U.S.

“The word has spread that the United States is rejecting refugees at ports of entry,” the report says. “For example, Human Rights First interviewed one asylum seeker, Javier, a taxi driver from Guatemala, who thought his only option was to cross the Rio Grande because other migrants told him U.S. or Mexican authorities would turn him away. This kind of crossing requires paying the cartel that controls access to the river to allow passage.”

The group said it visited seven border crossing points in the U.S., and also sent researchers to Mexico to talk with people who had been turned away.

CBP, the agency that oversees the border, said it enforces the laws “humanely, respectfully and with professionalism,” and rejected suggestions that it has changed policies under Mr. Trump.

CBP’s procedures are based on international law and are focused on protecting vulnerable and persecuted persons,” the agency said. “CBP officers do not determine or evaluate the validity of the fear expressed. As an agency, CBP adheres to law and policy on processing asylum claims and does not tolerate abuse of these policies.”



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