The Trump Administration is Allegedly Slowing the Asylum Process to Discourage Applicants

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

In their continuing effort to make life miserable for people who have left extreme poverty and violence to seek safety in the U.S., a senior Customs and Border Patrol official told Congress during a closed-door session earlier this month that the agency is limiting the number of applicants to discourage future asylum-seekers. The report emerged in a letter written by senior House Democrats to CBP officials, according to BuzzFeed.

The practice, known as “metering,” involves immigration officials artificially limiting the number of asylum applicants they will accept in a day.

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BuzzFeed reports:

On Dec. 6, [Jud Murdock, CBP’s acting assistant commissioner] said in a closed congressional briefing that CBP had chosen to limit asylum-seekers at ports of entries because “[t]he more we process, the more will come,” according to the letter.

Murdock’s answers to follow-up questions “clearly indicated, given the context, that the Department’s decision to limit processing was primarily motivated by its desire to deter migrants from seeking asylum at ports of entry” generally, according to the letter, which was signed by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Bennie Thompson, and Jerrold Nadler, the ranking Democrats on the Immigration Subcommittee, the Homeland Security Committee, and the Judiciary Committee, respectively.

The letter was sent to CPB commissioner Kevin McAleenan on Monday. It includes demands that the agency respond to questions about whether the practice is being used to deter future asylum seekers. Ironically, McAleenan has appeared to discuss the practice with journalists in the past, as in this Vox piece (emphasis mine):

Like a lot of immigration tactics Trump has used, metering — the practice of asking asylum seekers without papers to wait until ports of entry have the capacity to process them — was first instituted under the Obama administration, after an influx of Haitian asylum seekers arrived at the Otay Mesa and San Ysidro ports in San Diego in 2016.

Because there’s no official data on the use of metering, we have to rely on anecdotes and self-reporting to evaluate how common the practice is. McAleenan told reporters in October that on any given day, only three or four ports along the US-Mexico border were metering asylum seekers, and that Tijuana, where thousands of asylum seekers are waiting to cross at San Ysidro, is the only port of entry where metering is constant.

But while exact wait times are hard to pin down, reports and anecdotes from nongovernmental organizations along the border suggest that since this spring, metering has gone from a temporary measure at some ports to a near-constant state of affairs at most of the major border crossings where migrants arrive on foot.

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Democrats called Murdock’s comments “disturbing,” especially since Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has often told asylum seekers to go through the process rather than crossing into the country illegally.

CBP officials say that the comments by Murdock were taken out of context.

“During this briefing, CBP reiterated what we have said numerous times, that with the influx of Central American family units arriving at our ports of entry without proper documentation, and crossing our borders illegally, the processing system at CBP and our partner agencies has hit capacity,” Corry Schiermeyer, CBP press secretary, told BuzzFeed. “As more people are processed, the capacity challenges increase, and become unsustainable.”

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The data doesn’t agree. Research released last month by the the University of Texas at Austin’s Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law found that the CBP’s practice of metering began approximately two years ago and has become entrenched over the course of Trump’s time in office.

There’s also been substantial reporting on metering in the press, “Murdock’s statement not only confirms that DHS is using metering to slow-walk asylum applications, regardless of whether the agency has the capacity to process such, but also that they are doing so for the purpose of deterring future arrivals of asylum-seekers,” Sarah Pierce, a researcher at the Migration Policy Institute, told BuzzFeed.

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In a sad irony, metering, meant to deter migrants, could actually be making more people cross the border without first applying for asylum, the DHS inspector general found earlier this year. Now, the American Immigration Council is filing a federal lawsuit to challenge the legality of the practice.

If the government’s current practice continues, asylum seekers will remain needlessly incarcerated during weeks or months before their initial screening interviews and bond hearings,” the group said in a statement.Immigrants who are forced to remain detained are less likely to succeed in their asylum cases or to find attorneys to help them.”

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