Since at least 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials used lies, threats, coercion and physical abuse, among other tactics, to deny migrants access to the asylum process at ports of entry along the southern border.
The SPLC joined a class action lawsuit in 2018 as co-counsel to stop this unlawful conduct, which violates the rights of asylum seekers and imperils their lives and safety. The lawsuit, originally filed in July 2017, describes how CBP officials would misinform asylum-seekers that they could no longer apply for asylum, even going as far as to say, “Donald Trump just signed new laws saying there is no asylum for anyone.”
An amended complaint was filed on Nov. 13, 2018. It links high-level Trump administration officials to an official “Turnback Policy,” ordering CBP officials to restrict the number of asylum-seekers who can access the asylum process at ports of entry. In accordance with this policy, CBP officials have used various methods to unlawfully deny asylum-seekers access to the asylum process based on purported – but ultimately untrue – assertions that there is a lack of “capacity” to process them.
The amended complaint describes how CBP’s conduct violates the plaintiffs’ rights under U.S. and international law by preventing individuals who have fled grave harm in their countries from seeking protection in the United States.
It also explains that the Turnback Policy encompasses a variety of practices CBP has used to prevent migrants from seeking asylum in the United States, including outright denials of access and racial discrimination. In March 2018, for example, four Guatemalan asylum seekers at an El Paso, Texas, port of entry were turned away after CBP officials told them that “Guatemalans make us sick.”
After the Trump administration implemented an asylum ban that effectively blocks individuals who passed through another country on their way to the United States from seeking asylum, the SPLC and its partners filed a preliminary injunction to prevent the ban from being applied to people who would have been exempt from the ban if CBP had not turned them away at the border.
CBP’s unlawful policy and practice of turning away asylum seekers at ports of entry is designed to serve the Trump administration’s broader, publicly proclaimed goal of deterring individuals from seeking asylum in the United States. Many desperate asylum seekers, faced with the consequences of the Turnback Policy and CBP’s illegal practices, have felt compelled to enter the United States illegally, often by swimming the Rio Grande or paying smugglers exorbitant sums to reach safety as quickly as possible.
Despite multiple attempts by the Trump administration to have the case dismissed since its filing, the case continues to move forward.