Cummings, Lofgren Launch Investigation into Reports Of CBP Illegally Turning Away Asylum Seekers
Today, Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and Zoe Lofgren, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, launched an investigation into reports that officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are turning away asylum seekers in violation of U.S. and international law. The Members sent letters to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and DHS Inspector General John Roth.
Cummings and Lofgren described that they are "deeply troubled" by widespread reports of CBP agents illegally turning away asylum seekers fleeing from torture and war atrocities to the United States as their last beacon of hope.
They further wrote: "Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, CBP must refer for interviews with asylum officers any individuals who are physically present or arrive in the United States with ‘an intention to apply for asylum.' International laws such as the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees also require CBP officers to process for interviews people who seek asylum on the grounds that they are being persecuted ‘for their race, religion, nationality,' as well as for their political opinions and other factors."
In May 2017, Human Rights First issued a report documenting 125 cases of people and families who apparently were wrongfully denied access to U.S. asylum procedures at various points of entry, but noted that the actual number was likely much higher. In one case highlighted in the report, CBP agents told asylum seekers that "Trump says we don't' have to let you in" and that "you can't just show up here."
Earlier this month, a group of immigration lawyers representing asylum seekers filed a class-action lawsuit against DHS, citing similar reports. They allege that CBP officials systemically turned away asylum seekers and used "misrepresentations, threats and intimidation, and verbal and physical abuse," in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Cummings and Lofgren urged the Inspector General to investigate the allegations, and requested the following information from DHS:
1. How many individual allegations, on a monthly basis, have been filed against CBP for wrongfully turning away asylum seekers between November 2016 and the present?
2. How many complaints from or on behalf of asylum seekers, on a monthly basis, have the Department or CBP investigated from November 2016 to present, how many have resulted in disciplinary action, and what types of disciplinary action have been taken?
3. Has the Department or CBP developed training materials to ensure that officials comply with applicable domestic and international laws pertaining to asylum seekers? If so, please specify what materials or screening mechanisms CBP employees have used and been trained or re-trained on, and provide those training materials to us.
4. Has the Department or CBP issued any new or revised guidance since January 20, 2017, regarding the admission of asylum seekers? If so, please provide the new or revised guidance.
Click here to read the letter to Acting Secretary Duke.
Click here to read the letter to Inspector General Roth.