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Border & Immigration

San Diego humanitarian aid groups decry treatment of migrants by federal agencies

A week after the end of Title 42, nonprofit groups that have been on the ground both at and near the border held a press briefing to describe conditions for people who are asking for asylum in America.

Margaret Cargioli, with Immigrant Defenders Law Center, decried the death of an eight-year-old girl in Customs and Border Protection custody in Texas, a week after a 17-year-old boy died in a Florida detention facility.

She said she is afraid this won't be the last time she hears about such deaths,"Because if you're processing people that quickly, as if they're cattle and not human beings, what results should we expect, but the unfortunate tragedies?"


Cargioli said the CBP One app to apply for asylum is faulty and causing more harm than help. She described the case of one family that she said is now separated because only one family member could get a CBP One appointment.

"They told me that only their son was able to get an appointment and he was in line waiting to be processed into the United States," Cargioli said.

She also said lawyers are unable to find people who are lost in the system, unable to seek critical legal aid. And she said those are the lucky ones, because human rights violations are happening on the other side of the border too.

"What our staff has seen in the past few days is that Mexican police are also telling individuals who want to go to us to ask for asylum," she said. "They're telling them to leave."

Pedro Rios with the American Friends Service Committee said CBP herded asylum seekers into remote areas in Jacumba and between the border walls on U.S. soil. He said once there, people were counted, and pre-registered, but were not allowed to leave, and were deprived of basic needs.


"There were infants, there were children, there were people that were ill, in a much more vulnerable situation, that should not ever have been exposed to those conditions," he said. "We had to coordinate with Border Patrol initially to call medical services, and at one point, they said, 'You just need to call 911 and stop calling us.' We called 911 to respond to an eight-month-old child who looked listless."

Rios also said earlier this month, CBP agents conducted readiness exercises at the San Ysidro Port of Entry with smoke bombs and sound grenades, "in a way to practice against the possible incursion of a large number of migrants that make their way to through the port."

He said the drills were traumatizing for people fleeing life-threatening situations.

"Unfortunately, they also have the effect of suggesting that violence is the mechanism by which people should be responded to if they are fleeing their home countries," Rios said. "There was absolutely no welcoming with dignity for people who are seeking asylum."

CBP did not respond to KPBS' request for comment about the nonprofits' claims, but Kate Clark of Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) said her agency has been coordinating with federal partners, including the Department of Homeland Security, as asylum-seekers are released to the care of San Diego county’s Rapid Response Migrant Shelter Service.

JFS runs the service, and Clark said they have seen more people since the end of Title 42 — on some days, five times more than their average.

She said it's hard to forget what she saw and heard from those they have helped: "A mom and her young daughter from Colombia, who spent nearly a week between the border walls in unspeakable conditions... Two brothers from Sudan, who had made month long journeys to even arrive at the southern border, (and) who immediately upon release from CBP custody, as an expression of their gratitude to have safety and security, blew a kiss to the sky. And finally, we welcomed an abuelita (grandmother) yesterday who was inconsolably crying (because) while she had made it, many of her family members did not," recalled Clark.

Rios says they’re calling on the Biden Administration to investigate what they say are CPB’s failures and human rights violations.

"I think people should be held accountable for why and how this happened," he said. "And if that means that officials need to be removed from office, then that's something that should definitely be considered."