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Whistleblowers Say CBP Knowingly Broke The Law As It Turned Back Asylum-Seekers

People line up to cross into the United States to begin the process of applyi...

Photo by Gregory Bull AP

Above: People line up to cross into the United States to begin the process of applying for asylum near the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico. President Trump has threatened to close the border to asylum-seekers.

A new filing in federal court claims that Customs and Border Protection knew it was breaking the law when it began turning away asylum-seekers at the southern border.

The filings are part of a class-action lawsuit that centers on the thousands of asylum-seekers who have been turned away at Ports-of-Entry across the southern border since late 2016. The asylum-seekers are then told to put their names on a list and wait in border cities like Tijuana.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

CBP has said they simply didn’t have the capacity to process more than just a few asylum-seekers each day. But a new filing says CBP was breaking the law and Department of Homeland Security leadership knew it.

“Unlike their characterization of events, it wasn’t just a few bad apples, it wasn’t just a few officers who were turning away asylum-seekers, it actually was a policy and practice that was directed from the highest levels,” said Erika Pinheiro, a staff attorney with Al Otro Lado, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to end the turnbacks.

RELATED: Trump Administration’s ‘Unprecedented’ Asylum Restrictions Could Outlast Pandemic

Under this "policy," thousands of asylum-seekers from Central America, Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, were told to wait in Tijuana, even if they feared for their safety there.

Documents detail some Border Patrol agents pushing back against CBP and DHS leadership, asking for the policy to be put in writing. Some of these agents, then, in turn, blew the whistle on the agency and gave depositions for the lawsuit.

“The point of all the turnaways was to slow the flow of asylum-seekers, to try to reduce the number of asylum-seekers crossing the southern border," Pinehiro said. "And they knew that they couldn’t just write that out, because it’s just an incredibly clear violation of the law.”

One whistleblower, a CBP agent stationed in Tecate, said asylum-seekers were being turned away, even though there were available beds and agents to process them.

In a deposition, the whistleblower is asked, “So you were instructed to lie to people when turning them back. Is that right?” The response: “We were instructed, yes."

Pinheiro said this all lines up with a fundamental shift for the leadership of DHS under the Trump administration.

“This isn’t a rogue agency at this point. They don’t care about checks put on them by congress or the courts, and they’ve been deployed politically by this administration to shut off all immigration to the United States, but specifically asylum in the United States,” she said.

The filing calls for a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, many of whom are still waiting for asylum in Mexico.

A hearing is scheduled for federal court in San Diego in December.

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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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