Two controversial pilot programs that sought to expel Mexican and Central American asylum seekers on the southern border were fraught with problems, including migrant families forced to stay in detention longer than appropriate, young girls trapped in the same detention space with an unrelated adult. men and toilets in limited privacy facilities.
The details come from a draft report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security which was obtained by BuzzFeed News. The two pilots instituted last fall – the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP) and Rapid Asylum Review (PACR) – were part of the Trump administration’s efforts to rapidly and potentially filter return asylum seekers to the border.
Under HARP, Mexican asylum seekers detained by border patrol officers underwent an initial screening, called a credible fear interview, by asylum officers from state citizenship and immigration services. United (USCIS) within 48 hours, and the decision on screening should go faster than usual. The other program, PACR, was organized in the same way but targeted Central Americans crossing Mexico to arrive at the US border.
The programs were finally suspended during the coronavirus pandemic, as the administration chose instead to immediately return asylum seekers, including children, to the border.
DHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Inspectors focused their investigation in the El Paso area, where they found numerous issues with the pilot programs, including families who remained in border patrol custody for more than a week, beyond of the 72-hour standard for the detention of immigrants in CBP custody.
Inspectors, however, pointed out the lack of privacy at border facilities.
The report says the facility’s large cells have prompted CBP officials to fight dueling detention standards: those that enforce family unity while also requiring the separation of women and children from unrelated men. CBP officials reunited different families and as a result, the women and girls in the cells were detained with men and boys who were not family members.
“We found that CBP brought many families together in large open cells in El Paso without guarantee of privacy or separation of minors from unrelated adults, ”the report says. In one cell, two 14-year-old girls were detained with nine unrelated men.
“The toilet in the living room with waist-high partitions provided little privacy” and there was no “private space for breastfeeding”, despite the fact that there were mothers with babies. CBP officials placed a guard to monitor the detainees, and there were no subsequent complaints from the families.
According to the report, CBP officials attempted to create a “less restrictive” environment for children in detention.
“CBP had created a play area in each cell, with colorful rugs and toys. CBP officials said they padded concrete poles in detention cells to protect children running around, ”the report notes, while comparing this experience to family detention centers run by ICE which have recreational facilities. outdoor, exercise equipment, sports and access to advice. .
Border officials have not fully measured the success of the program in a practical way, the inspectors wrote. According to the report, CBP had two endpoints for PACR and none for HARP. There was no evidence that the agency intended to roll out the policy after evaluating its effectiveness, and furthermore, there were no defined targets given by CBP to border officials to assess its effectiveness. success in the first place.
CBP staff had problems keeping migrants confidential to speak to legal consultants and government officials on their own. USCIS officials told inspectors that many immigrants did not understand what legal representation meant and that CBP officials had struggled to give them access to phones.
In a credible fear interview, asylum seekers must demonstrate that there is a significant possibility that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. Before the interview, immigrants take advantage of the time in detention to consult lawyers or other people to help them prepare their case.
Ultimately, only a small percentage of each of these groups passed their initial asylum screening interview: 19% for PACR and 29% for HARP.
The Inspector General’s draft report was a draft document, and the inspectors plan to assess the rest of the border sites in the future.