October 23, 2021

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Remember when officials claimed they couldn’t process asylum-seekers due to capacity? That was a lie


Moore and El Paso Matters’ investigative work confirms what advocates like Annunciation House founder Ruben Garcia had long believed but couldn’t outright prove. “We knew, we knew, we knew [that the capacity explanation was untrue], and there was nothing that we could do about it,” he told El Paso Matters. 

In one example from June 2018, the report said that a border officer turned away three Guatemalan asylum-seekers despite evident ability to process them. “Right now, we cannot process them,” he claimed to Annunciation House representatives. “This is nationwide, as I’m sure you know. We are at capacity.” In reality, “about 60 people were being held in CBP cells on the El Paso-Juárez border, and more than 200 holding spaces for processing migrants sat empty, a researcher would later discover when preparing a report for a lawsuit challenging the legality of turning back asylum seekers at the border,” El Paso Matters reported.

“Eventually, the three Guatemalans were allowed to proceed to the port of entry to process their asylum claims, in large part because they had stepped past CBP officers at the boundary line and were on U.S. soil,” the report continued. But we already knew officials were lying about metering, and that the lies came from the very top.

While former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen claimed under oath to Congress that she’d taken no actions to reduce CBP’s ability to process asylum-seekers at ports of entry, an DHS inspector general report last year confirmed that was a lie. “On June 5, 2018, Nielsen signed a memo authorizing port directors to establish metering at official border crossings,” BuzzFeed News reported in 2020. “The memo also authorized port directors to reassign staffers away from processing undocumented immigrants.”

“Although metering is most associated with the Trump administration, the first use of the tactic came in May 2016,” under the Obama administration, El Paso Matters reported. The practice had initially been used to turn away Haitian migrants, which once again shines a much needed light on the extraordinary abuses they face under the U.S. immigration system. Last month, a federal judge ruled that ‘metering’ of asylum applicants at the U.S. borders is illegal, Reuters reported

“@CBP lied & people died, & their deaths could’ve been avoided had (DHS) not directed agents to disregard US federal law,” Al Otro Lado border rights project director Nicole Ramos tweeted.

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I’d previously noted how quickly border officials’ excuses crashed and burned when cornered in unique situations. Back in July 2019, border officials were dead-set on blocking a pregnant asylum-seeker and her family, initially claiming to them, “We’re full,” The Washington Post reported at the time. These agents were so eager to violate U.S. asylum law that they hadn’t even noticed that Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and his staffers were behind the family, having met them while visiting a Mexican shelter. A supervisor was called, and just minutes later, the family was allowed to pass through. 

“I feel very confident that if the family had tried to present alone, they would not have been allowed in,” immigration attorney Taylor Levy told The Post at the time.





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