BY KINO BORDER INITIATIVE | October 5, 2019

The border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Nogales, Arizona [Ignatian Solidarity Network]

This week, 6 Mexican families were wrongfully removed by Border Patrol despite reporting that they expressed fear of return to agents. These incidents are part of a worsening pattern of wrongful removals in the past 6 weeks. Since mid-August, the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) has received at least 15 Mexican families who report that they fled violence in their communities yet when Border Patrol apprehended them, agents disregarded their requests for asylum and claims of fear. This week represents an escalation of this trend, including 4 women and 6 children apprehended in the same group who report agents misrepresenting what was happening to them, withholding information, engaging in abusive behavior, and claiming to deny asylum to all Mexicans. KBI has filed complaints on behalf of 3 families removed this week and 3 removed in recent weeks and urges the Office of the Inspector General, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate this troubling pattern.

Background: Wrongful Removals of Asylum Seekers

Under the expedited removal statute, Border Patrol is required to ask individuals if they have a fear of return and, if they express fear, immediately refer them to the asylum process. The failure of Border Patrol to follow the law has been well-documented over time, including a 2016 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Barriers to Protection: The Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal. KBI has witnessed this trend and from 2015 to 2018 has filed on average 6 complaints per year regarding wrongful removals. In comparison, the 6 complaints we have filed in the last six weeks represent an unprecedentedly high rate at which Border Patrol is violating asylum law. This escalation demonstrates a concerted effort to deny access to asylum, which results in deportations back to life-threatening circumstances.

Asylum Seekers: Recent Stories from the Border

Below are accounts from three of the women traveling apprehended at the same time this week. Names are changed to protect privacy.

  • Catalina, who was traveling with her 3-year-old daughter, recounted the following exchange, which occurred on Sunday evening, September 29th, at the Tucson Border Patrol Station. During the interview, the agent asked, “Why did you come to my country?” She replied, “to seek asylum.” He responded, “oh, you want me to take care of you?” And she said, “no, I will do that. I am a widow, I will work hard for my kids. [Gangs] killed my husband and abused me.” He said, “yeah, that’s what everyone says, what do you want me to do about it?” And she responded, “I am here to work, and be safe and save my life and my children’s lives. This is a country of peace.” He said, “You are invading my country.” During this exchange, he told Catalina three more times that he did not want her in his country.
  • Lidia was with her three children, two sons (ages 8 and 15) and a daughter, 11, as well as her sister and her sister’s family, from whom Lidia and her children were separated. During their first interview, Lidia said to the agent, “We are here to seek asylum because there is a lot of violence where I live.” He said, “Illegals and Mexicans don’t have a right to anything!” She reiterated that she wanted safety, and he said, “We’re not giving you asylum. My wife has been without work for three years; there’s no work for you here.” Additionally, when Lidia was asked to sign her deportation paperwork she said, “I cannot return to my country.” The agent said, “It’s a lie, we’re not giving [asylum]. Tell other people where you’re from that we’re not giving that anymore. If you try to return, we’re going to put you in jail and separate you from your kids.” While in Border Patrol custody, Lidia was separated for four hours from her three children in the station: herself in a cell with other women, her two sons in a second cell, and her daughter to a third. During that time, her 11-year-old daughter reports that she asked agents for a blanket or a sweater because she was so cold. She says they refused, responding, “we don’t care if you die of cold.”
  • Yolanda, who was with her 4-year-old son, heard agents talking among themselves, saying “Mexicans are shit, asylum is not for Mexicans.” When an agent told her “Sign this to be deported,” she refused saying, “no, I am not going to sign anything, I want to tell them why I left and what I am fleeing.” She and her son were deported without her ever signing her removal paperwork.

The Trump Administration has made concerted and well-publicized efforts to deny non-Mexicans access to asylum through policies like Remain in Mexico and the Interim Final Rule, which prevents access to asylum for those who did not request it in a country of transit. In a similar vein though less visibly, Border Patrol is attempting to prevent Mexican families from accessing asylum through the increasing frequency of wrongful removals. Border Patrol’s failure to follow their basic legal obligation to ask and record whether someone expresses fear of return further demonstrates the absurdity of the Trump Administration’s effort to deputize agents to conduct Credible Fear Interviews. KBI demands an immediate investigation into these incidents and expanded oversight of Border Patrol processing of asylum seekers.

The Kino Border Initiative (KBI), is a binational organization that works in the area of migration and is located in Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. KBI is an institutional member of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. For more information regarding the “removals” policy, please contact Katie Sharar or Joanna Williams at KBI.

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