Under federal law, anyone who reaches a U.S. port of entry may make a claim for asylum. But now it appears U.S. Customs and Border Protection is adopting a new tactic to keep out immigrants – telling border agents to stop would-be asylum seekers before they reach a border checkpoint.
“We saw officers from Customs and Border Protection stopping people at the top of the bridge, which is where the boundary is, which is very unusual,” Moore says. “Usually when you cross into El Paso the inspection is down at the bottom of the bridge, at the port of entry itself. But they were intercepting people, and if they found that they were Central Americans intending to apply for asylum, they were telling the Central Americans that they were at capacity and they couldn’t process them at this time, and to come back later. Although they would never say what ‘later’ meant.”
It’s unclear what consequences, if any, these individuals would face if they went ahead anyway.
“The law requires that anyone seeking asylum, regardless of status, must be allowed to make that claim,” Moore says.
He says the law is very clear on this issue – but many of those who are crossing don’t know that.
“If you’re coming from Central America and not familiar with asylum laws or anything, and a law enforcement agent tells you, ‘Sorry, we’re closed today,’ you’re probably not going to challenge them,” he says. “It’s a rare case that what happened on Saturday was able to happen.”
That day he saw two representatives from Annunciation House, an El Paso organization that accompanies migrants across the border, defend asylum seekers.
“Somebody who did know the law was there with a migrant to be able to make that case and tell CBP, ‘You have to take them in,’” Moore says.
In California, a lawsuit is underway to challenge CBP officers who allegedly told migrants that the U.S. no longer takes in asylum seekers.
“And then when you ask CBP, ‘Okay, how many people are you handling and what is capacity?’ you can’t get an answer,” he says.
Moore says one thing that gets lost in the immigration debate is that seeking asylum at port of entry is a legal means of entry – and for many people, it’s their only option.
Written by Jen Rice.