CBP Practice of Turning Away Asylum Seekers at U.S. Southern Border Is Systematic, Documented in New Legal Filing

Newly-Filed Evidence Bolsters Lawsuit Charging Illegal U.S. Practices

Nov.14, 2017,
Los Angeles Today, an immigrant rights group, Los Angeles-based Al Otro Lado, and six asylum seekers filed a motion for class certification in their lawsuit challenging the government’s practice of depriving vulnerable asylum seekers of access to the U.S. asylum process in clear violation of U.S. and international law. The plaintiffs demonstrate that U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) practice of blocking access to asylum is so systematic that the individual asylum seekers in this suit should be permitted to represent all asylum seekers who have been or will be subject to this practice. Al Otro Lado and the individual plaintiffs are collectively represented by the American Immigration Council, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and an international law firm.

The filing relies on dozens of declarations from individuals who have been denied access to the U.S. asylum process, as well as numerous immigration and human rights advocates familiar with this practice. It documents the experiences of hundreds of asylum seekers turned away at ports of entry all along the U.S.–Mexico border. To carry out its turn-away practice, CBP employs a variety of tactics—including misinformation, threats and intimidation, threats of forced family separation, verbal and physical abuse, and coercion—forcing many asylum seekers to return to countries where they face grave violence or death. Many were unlawfully turned away multiple times, despite having expressed their fear of returning to their home countries in the face of a bona fide humanitarian crisis in Mexico, Haiti, and certain countries in Central America.

According to factual declarations submitted in support of the motion:

  • CBP officers regularly provide misinformation about the U.S. asylum process and relevant law. Asylum seekers who attempted to apply for asylum at ports of entry across the U.S.–Mexico border were falsely told that the United States “was not giving asylum anymore,” that Mexicans and Central Americans could not apply for asylum, or that the Trump administration had passed a new law ending asylum.

  • CBP unlawfully cooperates with Mexican authorities to deprive asylum seekers of the opportunity to seek protection. Dozens of asylum seekers were falsely told that the only way to seek asylum was to go through a “ticketing” process set up by the Mexican authorities.

  • CBP threatens to separate parents from their children to dissuade families from applying for asylum. For example, one woman reports she was warned that if she tried to apply for asylum, “they would separate me from my daughters and deport me.”

  • CBP officers coerce asylum seekers into withdrawing their requests for asylum and signing false documents. One woman was told that if she did not record a video saying that she was not afraid to return to Mexico, CBP would detain her children indefinitely. Under duress, she recorded the video, but refused to sign a form withdrawing her application for admission; instead, CBP officers simply wrote “unwilling to sign” on the form in place of her signature.

  • CBP officers use verbal and physical violence to turn asylum seekers away. One woman was shoved by an officer who told her “we don’t want Mexicans here,” while CBP officers assaulted a transgender woman and physically dragged her out of a port of entry after she requested asylum. An LGBT activist persecuted in his home country on account of his sexuality was also beaten by CBP officers when he refused to leave a port of entry after being told he could not apply for asylum.

“We at Al Otro Lado have seen and documented CBP’s unlawful and oppressive conduct against asylum seekers at our southern border, which has sharply escalated since the election of Donald Trump,” said Erika Pinheiro, Policy and Technology Director for Al Otro Lado. “The court must order wholesale relief for those who have suffered the abuses of CBP and for all future asylum seekers pursuing their right to safety.”

Melissa Crow, Litigation Director at the American Immigration Council said, “The voluminous evidence submitted by the plaintiffs leaves no doubt that CBP has flouted U.S. and international law at ports of entry across the U.S.–Mexico border. By systematically depriving asylum-seekers of their right to seek protection, the U.S. government is compounding the trauma they have already endured. This lawsuit is intended to put an end to these practices, which are not only unlawful but immoral.” 

Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy said, “CBP’s unconscionable practice signals contempt for the safety and dignity of extremely vulnerable individuals who seek safety and shelter in the United States. The individuals who have filed declarations in support of this lawsuit have demonstrated enormous courage in seeking a better life for their families and in supporting the rights and hopes of others who will need refuge from danger in the future.”

The case, Al Otro Lado v. Duke, No. 2:17-cv-05111, is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page and the American Immigration Council.

The American Immigration Council, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is a powerful voice in promoting laws, policies, and attitudes that honor our proud history as a nation of immigrants. Through research and policy analysis, litigation and communications, and international exchange, the Council seeks to shape a twenty-first century vision of the American immigrant experience.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

November 14, 2017