Customs and Border Protection officers have been turning away asylum seekers illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border for more than a year, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by several immigrant rights organizations.
Five of the six plaintiffs listed in the federal class-action lawsuit said they were turned away at one of San Diego's two ports of entry, Otay Mesa and San Ysidro. The lawsuit — brought by Al Otro Lado, a pro bono immigration legal services group, the American Immigration Council and the Center for Constitutional Rights — alleges that officials lied to asylum seekers, and in some cases coerced them, to prevent them from formally applying.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday that the agency could not comment on pending litigation. CBP previously has defended its handling of asylum seekers, saying the U.S. is following the law.
Reported cases have been documented since the summer of 2016, but according to Erika Pinheiro, policy director for Al Otro Lado, their frequency has increased since President Trump's inauguration.
One asylum seeker reported being told, "Donald Trump just signed new laws saying there is no asylum for anyone," according to the lawsuit.
Asylum seekers must show that they have suffered persecution or fear that they will because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Under both U.S. and international law, officials at the border must allow asylum seekers to make those claims to an asylum officer or immigration judge.
Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune