In scathing manifesto, an asylum officer blasts Trump’s cruelty to migrants

In scathing manifesto, an asylum officer blasts Trump’s cruelty to migrants


By:  Greg Sargent

President Trump’s requirement that asylum seekers remain in Mexico while they await hearings in the United States is creating a new humanitarian crisis. Yet it isn’t generating nearly the outrage and media scrutiny that his horrific family separations did.

But now a deeply dismayed asylum officer has authored a remarkable manifesto that was obtained by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), as part of an investigation Merkley is conducting of Trump’s asylum policies.

The manifesto indicts the “Remain in Mexico” program from the inside in sweeping and scalding terms, describing it as illegal under U.S. law, a violation of the United States’ international human rights obligations and arbitrarily implemented to deliberately punish people for seeking asylum here.

The policy is “clearly designed to further this administration’s racist agenda of keeping Hispanic and Latino populations from entering the United States,” the asylum officer writes in the manifesto.

The asylum officer recently left their job, and in the missive, the officer says he or she could not continue to implement it “after careful consideration and moral contemplation.”

The officer’s condemnations of the policy are among the key revelations in a forthcoming assessment of Trump’s asylum policies by Merkley’s office.

Those policies include everything from ongoing efforts to send asylum seekers back to Honduras, which is “one of the most violent and unstable nations in the world,” to a new proposal to charge asylum applicants a $50 fee.

Merkley’s report, portions of which I’ve seen, will conclude that the administration has undertaken “systemic efforts” to “effectively rewrite U.S. asylum laws, rules and procedures,” with the overarching goal of “gutting the asylum system” but “without congressional approval or involvement.”

Merkley’s report will also conclude that Trump’s policies have "intentionally inflicted trauma” on asylum seeking families.

The Remain in Mexico policy — which is also known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — requires migrants seeking asylum to wait in Mexico pending hearings in the United States, with the ostensible goal of preventing them from disappearing into the interior during that waiting period. About 50,000 migrants have been relocated there.

But the officer’s lawyer — Dana Gold, senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project — confirmed to me the authenticity of the manifesto and confirmed that it accurately depicts the person’s circumstances.

“In addition to this whistleblower, we are representing several other Department of Homeland Security whistleblowers who have raised serious concerns about immigration-related abuses,” Gold said. “That Congress is taking these issues seriously is essential to promoting accountability and protecting ethical civil servants committed to upholding their oaths of office.”

Tensions have been rising between asylum officers and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees the asylum system. And the union for asylum officers has already issued a legal brief condemning MPP amid litigation over the program.

Numerous critics have said it’s deeply cruel to knowingly force migrants to wait in places where they’ll be subjected to serious risk, and journalistic exposés and studies alike have documented that the MPPs do does just that.

The officer, who has repeatedly been in touch with Merkley’s office as part of its investigation, will remain anonymous.

But this asylum officer’s personal indictment of the policy goes much further.

For one thing, he or she accuses the administration of implementing the policy in an “arbitrary” manner:

The MPP both discriminates and penalizes. Implementation of the MPP is clearly designed to further this administration’s racist agenda of keeping Hispanic and Latino populations from entering the United States. This is evident in the arbitrary nature of the order, in that it only applies to the southern border. It is also clear from the half-hazard implementation that appears to target populations from specific Central American countries even though a much broader range of international migrants cross the southern border.

For another, he or she alleges that internal processes are breaking down. Under MPP, if asylum seekers in U.S. territory declare in their initial interview a fear of being returned to Mexico, they’re supposed to get a second screening, conducted by a trained asylum officer who is supposed to determine whether that fear is credible.

But the asylum officer charges that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — which didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment — is mismanaging the system in a way that’s deliberately designed to be punitive and to make it harder for applicants to succeed:

The implementation is calculated to prevent individuals from receiving any type of protection or immigration benefits in the future. As such, it is a punitive measure intended to punish individuals who attempt to request protection in the United States. There is no clearly established policy and system for notifying applicants of changes to hearing dates and times, or for the applicants to provide change of addresses to the courts and Border Patrol. Without a highly functional notice system, the administration has ensured that a high number of applicants will miss their court dates.

And the asylum officer blasts the program as “ad hoc” and rigged against applicants:

The current process places on the applicants the highest burden of proof in civil proceedings in the lowest quality hearing available. This is a legal standard not previously implemented by the Asylum Office and reserved for an Immigration Judge in a full hearing. However, we are conducting the interviews telephonically, often with poor telephone connections, while at the same time denying applicants any time to rest, gather evidence, present witnesses, and, most egregious of all, denying them access to legal representation.

In a statement sent my way, Merkley vowed more revelations to come.

“This whistleblower reveals that in multiple ways, the Trump administration has asked them and other American asylum officers to take actions they believe break their oath of office and violate the law,” Merkley told me. “In the coming days, I will be releasing a report that details the full scope of this administration’s efforts to gut our legal asylum system.”

What this will confirm again is that for Trump, the goal is to make it as hard as possible for people to apply for asylum who actually would likely qualify for it — further eroding our commitment to the principle that desperate people have the right to appeal for refuge here and get a fair hearing without fear of being returned to face catastrophe.