Voices of Conscience: Asylum Officers Speak Out

never-again-is-now-wideAsylum Officer Doug Stephens stood up.

“After careful consideration and moral contemplation,” he refused to participate in the “Migrant Protection Protocol” program, also known as “Remain in Mexico.”  This program sends asylum-seekers to live in danger and homelessness in Mexico for months, while they wait for court dates for their asylum cases.

Stephens met with his supervisors in August and then wrote an extensive memorandum explaining his conclusions as an attorney and an officer sworn to uphold the laws and constitution of the United States. Part of his scathing indictment of the MPP program describes the process:

“The current process places on the applicants the highest burden of proof in civil proceedings in the lowest quality hearing available. This is a legal standard not previously implemented by the Asylum Office and reserved for an Immigration Judge in a full hearing.However, we are conducting the interviews telephonically, often with poor telephone connections, while at the same time denying applicants any time to rest, gather evidence, present witnesses, and, most egregious of all, denying them access to legal representation. …The ad hoc implementation, lack of regulations, denial of basic rights in all other immigration proceedings, and high legal standard all but ensure that an applicant is unable to meet his or her burden. Participating in such a clearly biased system further violates our oath of office.”

Stephens’ attorney, Dana Gold, told the Washington Post that “we are representing several other Department of Homeland Security whistleblowers who have raised serious concerns about immigration-related abuses.”

Stephens and the other whistleblowers deserve respect for standing up and speaking out. According to the Los Angeles Times, they are far from alone:

“Stephens is believed to be the first asylum officer to formally refuse to conduct interviews under the program officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols. But across the country — according to asylum officers, including Stephens, as well as government officials — asylum officers are calling in sick, requesting transfers, retiring earlier than planned and quitting — all to resist Trump administration immigration policies.”

Senator Jeff Merkley’s report on the Trump administration’s gutting of the entire asylum system was informed, in part, by Stephens’ manifesto. That report concludes that the Trump administration policies “have involved actions that are in violation of domestic and international law; have placed political pressure on asylum officers to deny refuge to worthy applicants; and have subjected people seeking asylum to dehumanizing, dangerous, and in some cases deadly conditions.”

Now the Trump administration’s own officials also report that it is violating asylum laws.

“A team of senior Department of Homeland Security officials who examined a controversial Trump administration program to keep asylum-seekers in Mexico found that US border officials have not only prevented immigrants from making a claim for protection at the border with asylum officers but appeared to have pressured the officers to deny them entry into the US, according to a draft government report obtained by BuzzFeed News recommending significant and wide-ranging improvements to the program.”

Today, the Trump administration gave notice that it is about to start deporting asylum seekers to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, characterizing them as safe countries for asylum seekers, on a par with Canada. These are the very countries whose citizens are fleeing to ask for asylum here. NBC News reported the words of an anonymous immigration official:

“An official from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the part of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for providing benefits to those seeking asylum, said many inside the agency are quietly incredulous that the U.S. will be removing asylum-seekers to countries like Guatemala.

“‘Just as with MPP, there will be people who will die as a result of these policies,’ the official said…”

We need more whistleblowers and fewer anonymous senior officials. We need people across government to stand up and speak truth. We need officers to refuse to sign orders pilots to refuse to fly deportation planes. We need more people with the courage and integrity of Doug Stephens.






About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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