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Asylum Seekers Face Real Harm from US Border Policy

As People Are Expelled to Danger, States Sue to Keep Practice in Place

A family from Central America in Tijuana, Mexico, after taking part in a demonstration outside the main entrance of the El Chaparral border crossing to San Diego, California, calling for an end to US summary expulsions of people seeking asylum, on February 18, 2021. © 2021 Stringer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Following the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it would rescind an abusive Trump-era summary expulsion policy in May, the US states of Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri this week sued to force the administration to continue turning asylum seekers away at the border. In the same vein as alarmist and xenophobic rhetoric and policies seen in Texas, the states claim that giving people a fair shot at protection will cause “calamity ... chaos and catastrophe.” The hyperbole appears designed to conceal abuse and legal misdirection.

The real harms are faced by people expelled from the United States, with no chance to explain their situation or seek review.

Last week, I spoke to Amelia H. (not her real name) in Juárez, Mexico. She told me that after she entered the United States in September, US border agents stopped her and sent her back to Mexico just before midnight, even though US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) claims it doesn’t expel people after dark. They ordered Amelia to cross despite her pleas to make the trip in the morning. A group of men raped her on her way to a shelter in Mexico that night.

This horror was foreseeable and all too common. I’ve interviewed others who endured rape, abduction, or other violence after US border agents expelled them. Human Rights First has documented nearly 10,000 attacks on people summarily expelled.

Just last month, border agents expelled a man whose leg had been crushed in a trash compactor in Texas while sleeping in a dumpster to keep warm. He told a reporter, “I ended up getting expelled from El Paso, back over a bridge to Mexico, on foot – even though I had a walker from the hospital, and everyone could see I could barely move.... I was stranded on the street for the rest of the night.” CBP eventually let him back into the US to claim asylum, but only after a nonprofit, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, interceded.

If the Biden administration’s plan to end summary expulsions is upheld in the courts, it will go into effect May 23. That’s six more weeks of people facing the same dangers Amelia and thousands of others confronted.

It’s hard enough to justify another month and a half of this abusive practice. The claim that the real harms are suffered by US states, rather than the people expelled to danger, is indefensible.

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