Congress Members Demand Probe of Fake Court Hearings That Sent Asylum-Seekers Back to Mexico

December 24, 2019by Gustavo Solis
A mother comforts her crying child while joining over 200 asylum seekers in the parking lot of an immigration check-point in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico on Aug. 1, 2019. The U.S. is preparing to send asylum seekers to Honduras. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

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More than 50 members of Congress are calling for an investigation into reports of Customs and Border Protection officials issuing fake court hearing notices to bar asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. even after they’ve been granted asylum.

On Friday, Democratic Reps. Tony Cardenas and Lou Correa of California and Veronica Escobar of Texas led the coalition by sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General asking for a “full and thorough” investigation.

“This type of behavior by a government agency is abhorrent, violates the rule of law, and is antithetical to our values and the very essence of what we stand for as a nation,” the letter states.

Members of Congress specifically want to know whether any DHS or CBP leaders authorized the use of fake court hearings to send migrants back to Mexico and request that should any officials be found criminally liable they should be held accountable.

Friday’s letter is only the latest of what is mounting pressure from lawmakers on the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as Remain in Mexico.

Under the program, asylum-seekers are forced to live in Mexico while their court cases are adjudicated in the United States. The Mexican government only agreed to accept returnees who have future court dates. However, CBP officials have given migrants whose asylum cases are already over documents with fake future court hearings and sent them back to Mexico anyway.

In November, Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for a hearing into CBP’s alleged practice of using fake court hearings to send asylum-seekers back to Mexico.

Feinstein, D-Calif., who described the practice as “highly concerning,” asked for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing before the end of this year.

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The senator specifically cited The San Diego Union-Tribune’s reporting on the issue when calling for a hearing.

On Nov. 7, the newspaper reported that on at least 14 occasions CBP officials wrote fake future court dates on immigration documents and sent asylum-seekers back to Mexico after an immigration judge had already made a decision on their cases.

At the time, CBP officials defended the practice by saying that the date on the sheet is not a future court hearing but rather a date in which asylum-seekers can check in on the status of an appeal. According to the agency’s explanation, the government had appealed an immigration judge’s decision and therefore the case wasn’t over and migrants could still be sent back to Mexico.

However, Mexican officials stressed that they only agreed to accept returnees with future court dates, not ones with open appeals. Additionally, immigration lawyers whose clients had been sent back to Mexico with false documents called CBP’s explanation “ridiculous” and “false.”

Specifically, lawyers noted that the documents themselves disprove CBP’s explanation because they make no mention of the appeal process while specifically saying, “At your last court appearance, an immigration judge ordered you to return to court for another hearing.”

Since then, news reports have emerged of the same thing happening along the Texas portion of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“In one case, a Cuban refugee was forced by DHS to return to Mexico even after his request for asylum in the U.S. was granted by a judge because DHS decided to appeal his case,” according to the congressional letter asking for an investigation. “These appeals can take months or even years to complete.”

While in Mexico, migrants subject to “Remain in Mexico” have been robbed, kidnapped, beaten, sexually assaulted and murdered. Researchers at Human Rights First have documented more than 630 reported cases of migrants in the program being targets of violent crime.

The congressional coalition calling for an investigation pointed out that the State Department currently has 31 travel advisories for Mexico, including “do not travel” advisories in five Mexican states because of unsafe conditions.

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©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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