Advocates: U.S. still turning back asylum-seekers at southern border

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Group says "lack of capacity" argument by CBP officers smacks of Trump-era metering policies

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Advocates say this week’s rollback of non-essential travel restrictions did nothing for asylum-seekers, as many found themselves being turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border on Monday.

Between 30 to 40 individuals from Mexico and Central America waited on the pedestrian walkway of the Paso del Norte International Bridge for several hours to petition for asylum but were denied access to the U.S. side by federal officials, said Hannah Hollanbyrd, policy specialist for El Paso’s Hope Border Institute.

“I met several families including a single mom from Michoacan with two kids who had come to the port and requested asylum last week. They were told to come back this week when the border would reopen,” Hollandbyrd said. “They presented themselves at the bridge and were told there’s no capacity to receive them or told to wait” on the Mexican side.

Asylum-seekers weathered the sun in vain at the bridge from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., she said. At that point, Mexican customs officials and private security guards told them to leave. Most in the crowd expressed fear of being victims of crime in Juarez; one man already showed bruises around the eyes from a recent assault, the advocate said.

“The situation is incredibly uncertain and confusing and it’s very frustrating for people who are seeking asylum and trying to follow what they think is the proper procedure: go to a port of entry and tell the officers that you are fearful. That is how it’s supposed to work, but they’re being turned back,” Hollandbyrd said.

Border Report reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for comment. A spokesman said the November 8 changes at ports of entry applied only to fully COVID-19 vaccinated foreign nationals with valid documents. As of last Monday, they can come over for non-essential reasons such as shopping, tourism or to visit family members.

CBP earlier issued a statement clarifying that individuals without valid travel documents or who attempt to enter illegally remain subject to expulsion under the Title 42 public health order to prevent the cross-border spread of COVID-19.

“Those who cannot be expelled under Title 42 and do not have a legal basis to remain are placed in expedited or full removal proceedings,” the CBP statement said. “Our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey.”

But seeking asylum is a lawful activity and advocates hoped the Biden administration would welcome with dignity people fleeing crime and persecution.

“The agents (at the bridge) didn’t say the border is closed. They didn’t say there’s no asylum. They did not mention Title 42. They said they would only process people when there is capacity, which is something we had heard when the metering program was in effect in 2018,” Hollandbyrd said.

CBP said the Trump-era “metering” policy has been rescinded. The agency has received new guidance for the processing of individuals applying for asylum at the border. “Among other improvements, CBP is directed to accelerate ongoing efforts to digitize processing at ports of entry and more effectively use data to increase” capacity, the agency said.

But the fact remains that asylum-seekers are still being turned away at ports of entry, sometimes by the dozens, as was the case on Monday, advocates say.

“We continue to see this denial of human rights, this denial of asylum and the right to seek protection. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can welcome people in a way that’s dignified and safe and honors their human rights. That’s not what I saw yesterday,” Hollandbyrd said.

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