Dear Secretary Nielsen,
We continue to mourn the death of Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, the seven-year old Guatemalan girl who died in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. We are aware that the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General will investigate this horrific incident. However, this is not enough. We call on you to take immediate steps to end the policy of deterring migrants from applying for asylum at ports of entry, which is leading asylum seekers to attempt crossings in dangerous areas. This policy is likely illegal, and it is certainly irresponsible and dangerous.
In an attempt to deter asylum seekers from presenting claims at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Department has begun to limit its capacity to process asylum requests at ports of entry. The Department has also expanded the use of a practice known as "metering," wherein CBP officials only allow a certain number of asylum seekers to present claims each day.
This practice thwarts the intent of multiple provisions of U.S. law. The Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1225 and 1158) clearly states that asylum seekers at ports of entry must be allowed to present claims. Furthermore, in 2017, after Non-Governmental Organizations documented a pattern of asylum seekers being turned away at ports of entry, Congress approved an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, explicitly prohibiting the use of funds in contravention of 8 U.S.C. 1225. The Department's policy of intentional deterrence is likely a violation of both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the prohibition included in the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bill.
The policy of deterring asylum seekers is creating an unsustainable situation in Mexican border towns, where the number of asylum seekers awaiting entry is growing by the day. In many cases, asylum seekers are being forced to stay in emergency shelters, where conditions are unsanitary and or unsafe. In fact, it was the desperation caused by metering that led asylum seekers in San Ysidro to lead a protest at the U.S. port of entry, to which CBP responded by firing tear gas across the border.
Testimonies from asylum seekers and family unit apprehension statistics from 2018 strongly suggest that the bottleneck at ports of entry are leading to a growing number of asylum seekers attempting to cross between ports of entry. If this policy did not contribute to the death of Jakelin Caal, it will lead to other deaths of innocent children. Furthermore, metering puts our national security at risk by forcing Border Patrol to use limited resources to apprehend asylum seekers, rather than focusing on criminals or terrorists who represent a real security risk to the United States.
To ensure compliance with U.S. law, prevent further deaths, and secure our borders, CBP must explain how it plans to facilitate access to asylum at ports of entry. If additional resources are required to comply with the law, CBP must come before Congress with a detailed request. Continuing with the status quo is simply unacceptable.