A group of U.S. asylum officers is challenging President Donald Trump's policy of making migrants wait in Mexico prior to their immigration court dates, saying it is "fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation."
The American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924—the labor union for federal asylum officers—asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday to stop the program. They filed an amicus brief in support of the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, which in February filed a federal lawsuit to put an end to the practice.
Called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, the policy is colloquially known as "Remain in Mexico." Prior to its implementation, the U.S. "ensured that people fleeing persecution would not be—pending adjudication of their asylum application or anytime thereafter—returned to a territory where they may face persecution or threat of torture," the union wrote.
The brief filed by the asylum officers says that under the new policy, many immigrants now "face persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group." The union argues that the practice of forcing them to apply for asylum from outside the U.S. "abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and violates our international and domestic legal obligations."
MPP was instituted amid the increase of migrants from Central America. The amicus brief says that asylum seekers making their requests from Mexico face violence from drug gangs and that officers have heard "reports of kidnapping migrants for ransom or conscription into criminal activity." Ethnic minorities from indigenous communities throughout Central America have the hardest time, officers say. These migrants allegedly face the same kind of persecution in Mexico that drove them from their home countries, and that many indigenous women are sexually assaulted.
The union argues in its filing that while MPP is unethical, it also "does nothing to streamline the process, but instead increases the burdens on our immigration courts and makes the system more inefficient."
The program has added more immigration cases to a massive pileup, as asylum officers now cannot discriminate between applicants based on whether someone presents a "credible fear" of deportation. Previously, migrants who failed to meet that standard were not allowed to formally plead their case in front of a judge. Somewhat ironically, they are now given that opportunity under the Trump administration's new directive. "In other words," the union writes, "individuals who would never see an immigration judge under the expedited removal procedure are now added to the backlog of cases in line for a full hearing." MPP has also increased the administrative workload of asylum officers, who say in their filing that they are spread thin.
The amicus brief comes as the Trump administration struggles to quell growing public outrage over reports that a father and his daughter from El Salvador were found dead after fleeing a migrant camp in Mexico—which reportedly didn't have enough food—and attempting to cross the border into the U.S. to request asylum.
"We have a crisis at our southern border," Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services, tweeted in response to the filing. "While the union plays games in court, @POTUS and this Administration is taking action to secure the system and prevent the further loss of lives." He added that "MPP protects both the vulnerable, while they wait for their hearing, and our asylum system from choking on meritless claims. THAT is what protection officers signed up for."