Tue, May 09, 2017 - Page 9 News List

US border agents rejecting refugees: report

Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration seems to have encouraged some border agents to act beyond their purview by turning away people seeking refuge

By Caitlin Dickerson and Miriam Jordan  /  NY Times News Service, TIJUANA, Mexico

For migrants from Mexico and Central American countries, those numbers are even lower: only 10 percent to 23 percent since 2011, data compiled by researchers at Syracuse University shows.

Many refugees from the region claim they have been targeted by gangs, which is harder to prove than political persecution, or base their claims on poverty, which is not a ground for asylum.

If they are denied, asylum seekers can be deported, but since many are released while their case is pending, some never return to court and evade deportation.

The Trump administration has said asylum seekers should be released less often, and some lawyers said more of their clients are now being detained.

Border crossings have dropped drastically since Trump took office, a sign that his tough talk is discouraging people from even trying the journey.

Advocates for refugees say that Trump’s talk has also emboldened some customs officers to ignore the law and take it upon themselves to keep refugees from receiving an asylum interview.

“The tenor of interactions with CBP officers has veered toward the openly hostile following his election,” said Nicole Ramos, a US lawyer representing asylum seekers traveling through Tijuana, Mexico.

Francisca, who requested her last name be withheld because of concerns for her family’s safety, said she tried to show some documents to the border agent in Tijuana — the death certificate for their son who was killed and a police report documenting the attempted rape of their daughter, also by gang members.

However, the official threatened to have the family deported if they did not retreat into Mexico, she said.

“They treated us like we were trespassing,” said Francisca, who returned to a shelter for women and children with her 14-year-old daughter.

Her husband, Armando, is with their 18-year-old son at a men’s shelter down the street.

The report by Human Rights First said that a Honduran family was kidnapped and forced to pay a ransom for their release after they were turned back to Mexico twice by agents in Texas.

CARTEL PREY

Shaw Drake, the lead researcher of the report, said the area surrounding the ports of entry in Texas had been nicknamed the “hunting ground,” where cartels see refugees as easy prey for exploitation.

When he fled Mexico’s Guerrero State, Benito Jimenez Alarcon, 22, carried a plastic bag filled with photographs of injuries from the time he was kidnapped for three days by gang members. They show bruises spanning his back from side to side, where he said he was struck with clubs.

His legs are covered in bright purple and blue knots from gun lashings.

He thought he would receive an asylum hearing after US border agents rifled through his belongings, including the photographs.

The agents also asked him to remove his pants so they could see his injuries, he said.

However, the agents, possibly acting beyond their purview, told him that he needed police reports.

Jimenez, who was at a Tijuana shelter this week, said that it would be impossible to obtain such reports, because police and gangs in his village collaborate with each other.

A border agent told him he could only claim asylum with the help of a lawyer or through Grupo Beta, a Mexican organization that organized a numbering system to regulate the flow of refugees so they did not all seek asylum at once.

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