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CBP Agents Accused Of Illegally Altering Asylum Seekers' Court Documents

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Immigration attorneys claim agents with US Customs and Border Protection are falsifying dates on documentation to make sure migrants are sent back to Mexico after their court hearings.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Immigration attorneys working on asylum cases in San Diego and across the country. Say they've discovered a disturbing trend. They claimed some agents with us customs and border protection are falsifying dates on documentation to make sure migrants are sent back to Mexico after their final court hearing. The case revolves around the details of the administrations returned to Mexico policy and the claim that border patrol agents are manipulating paperwork to keep asylum seekers out of this country journey. Me as a reporter, Gustavo's Elise of the San Diego union Tribune and Gustavo. Welcome. Thank you Marie. The background to this story is a little complicated. Why don't you start by explaining what is supposed to happen to asylum seekers after they've had their court cases ended in the U S

Speaker 2: 00:50 so first of all, this is part of the, the return of Mexico policy, officially known as migraine protection protocols went into effect in January here in San Diego. And the way it works is if you're applying for asylum in the U S you have to wait in Mexico until your court case is over. We're in November now. The cases that started in January, it takes a long time to work your way through the court and they're starting to finish now and what is supposed to happen when you're done with your case, you're not supposed to be returned to Mexico. You're supposed to be there, uh, stay in the U S in a detention center based on the outcome or be paroled if you have family or somebody sponsor you here in the country, if you were granted asylum

Speaker 1: 01:31 and the U S agreement with Mexico says migrants, as you say, can wait in Mexico for a court hearing and they can be returned while their court proceedings continue, but they can't be returned to Mexico if they have no future court dates. Is that right?

Speaker 2: 01:46 Right. The whole point of the program is to wait while your court case is over and the Mexican government has said that they will not accept people who do not have a future court date because otherwise they would be there indefinitely.

Speaker 1: 01:59 What do these attorneys say the CPB agents have been doing?

Speaker 2: 02:02 So what happens after a court hearing? Right? People show up at the border, they get in a bus and they get driven from the border straight to the immigration court in downtown San Diego. And then when they're done with court, they get driven back to the border and they're processed over there at the border. Normally what happens if someone has a future court date, the CBP agents will give them a sheet of paper. It's called a tear sheet, basic instructions a year in migrant protection protocols program. You need to appear at the border at 8:00 AM on December 16th, which would be the date of their future court hearing. And then they get sent back to Mexico. What's happening now is the, uh, migrants who have finished their court case, they're still getting these tear sheets and it'll say, come back to court. You have a future court date and appear on this day.

Speaker 2: 02:54 Some of them said January, 2020. The problem with that is you look at the court calendar for their case. There's nothing on the docket for January, 2020 because the case is closed. So the claim is that, uh, the CPV agents are allegedly falsifying these court dates that don't exist simply to send people back to Mexico. Thus, right. Lawyers I talked to said that Mexican immigration officials are not trained to determine whether this tear sheet is a legal document or not. They simply take CBPs word for it. They read a future date and they said, okay, come on in. What are some of the experiences these attorneys say they've had with clients whose court cases have ended and should not have been returned to Mexico but were returned to Mexico? Well, a lot of it is a confusion, frustration, being scared in at least one case that I covered.

Speaker 2: 03:51 A woman was physically assaulted after she was returned to Mexico this way. She was a slashed on the forearm while protecting her children from an attempted kidnapping, and she should have been the United States had she won her asylum claim. So she hadn't won her asylum case. What happened with her case, which is actually pretty common and remain in Mexico, is that the case was terminated, meaning the judge closed the case without making a decision. Uh, most of the time this happens on procedural grounds. Uh, so there's a judge here in San Diego who will say, uh, the program is meant only for people who turn themselves in at the border, not for people who are crossed entering legally. So if he gets a case of people crossing illegally and being put into the program, he'll say, you know, they're not eligible. I'm just going to throw this case out.

Speaker 2: 04:42 She should have been remanded to a detention center on this side of the border. That's right. Normally when your case is terminated, you're put into tension like, you know, Thai Mesa, the government reserves the right to start over and file new charges over there. But it's a completely separate case. So for all intents and purposes, your case is closed right now. Is there any speculation as to why CPB would be falsifying these days to keep asylum seekers in Mexico? When I reached out to CVP multiple times at their San Diego offices and their Washington office, and there was no reply on that front, so we'd have to ask them why they're doing this. Lawyers speculated that the point of migrant protection protocols is to keep people from applying and getting asylum. Uh, and if that's the intent, then obviously sending people back to Mexico is, um, is further furthering that intent. Now, what our Mexican authorities doing about the allegations that they're being sort of duped by CPB agents. I did reach out to the Mexican government through the console that here in San Diego, uh, they said they're investigating this, they're reviewing, uh, these specific cases and they made it clear that their agreement is not to allow migrants back

Speaker 1: 05:58 in Mexico who do not have future court dates. I have been speaking with a reporter, Gustavo. So Lisa, the San Diego union Tribune. Gustavo. Thank you. Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. KPBS reached out for comment to the San Diego based public information officer for customs and border protection, but we did not receive a response.

Speaker 3: 06:25 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.