Migrant justice advocates and lawyers have filed a class-action lawsuit against top U.S. immigration authorities including the Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
They allege that U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP, officials have engaged in a systematic pattern of illegal activity – including lying outright – in a bid to turn back asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
CBP representatives allegedly went as far as threatening to take migrants' children away in attempts to coerce them into signing forms abandoning their claims.
In other cases, people are said to have been lied to and told that “Donald Trump just signed new laws saying there is no asylum for anyone.”
The CBP also allegedly used verbal abuse, physical force, and threats of deportation to migrants' home countries.
The lawsuit was filed in a California District Court by Al Otro Lado – a binational non-profit legal services organization that assists deportees, migrants and refugees in Tijuana – as well as six plaintiffs who are being represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, American Immigration Council, and the law firm of Latham and Watkins.
It describes a range of cases where anonymous plaintiffs were forced to sign forms claiming that they no longer feared for their lives or the lives of their children.
CBP officials also allegedly misinformed asylum seekers of their rights, forcing them to languish along with their children in Tijuana.
The advocates have noted that the consistent violation of asylum seekers' rights began prior to the election of the U.S. President Donald Trump, “since at least the summer of 2016.”
They claim that the systematic pattern is a result of policy changes, as yet unrevealed, that have resulted in the blocking of U.S. Ports of Entry from asylum seekers.
“Our organization has documented this over 100 times,” Attorney Erika Pinheiro of Al Otro Lado said to The Washington Post. “It would be very strange if there's that many rogue officers that are all doing the same thing at different ports of entry.”
CBP officials stand accused of violating the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which restricts the rejection or removal of asylum seekers whose lives are endangered.
The lawsuit also cites precedents that disallow immigration officers from discretionary actions that would prevent access to the asylum process.
Likewise, under universally acknowledged human rights and refugee laws, asylum seekers and refugees cannot be returned to “the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion,” under the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.
Central Americans from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been coming to the U.S.-Mexico border in increasing numbers.
According to a study released in May by Doctors Without Borders, MSF, 92 percent of the refugees have witnessed or experienced traumatic and violent events such as kidnapping, sexual violence and assault, and the murder of their relatives.