2 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct involving “CBP” where the event type is “Denial of Access to Counsel”

January 5, 2022

In the January 8, 2022 San Diego Union-Tribune, reporter Kate Morrissey recounted the experience of two Colombian men who, on January 5, were the first to be sent back to Tijuana under the revived “Remain in Mexico” program. She found that what they underwent “included many of the issues that plagued the program under the Trump administration.”

The Biden administration’s December 2 guidance for the restarted program promised access to counsel. But Morrissey found that “the two Colombian men were not allowed to speak with attorneys while in U.S. custody.” The wife of one of the men, a green card holder in the United States, could have hired an attorney for him to support his claim of fear of return to Mexico, but officials denied his request to call her.

The men, who had turned themselves in to U.S. personnel in order to seek protection after receiving urgent threats in Colombia, recounted poor treatment in CBP custody. They were placed in a cell in a Border Patrol station with “dozens of other men,” forced to sleep on the floor for nearly a week, with lights always on, for lack of bed space. They were not given an opportunity to bathe or shower. “Though they do not speak much English, they realized that agents were speaking badly about them, they said. They recognized words like ‘stupid’ and phrases like ‘go back to your country.’”

As required by the new guidelines, a Border Patrol agent asked the men if they were afraid to return to Mexico, although they said “another agent tried to keep that official from asking the question.” Under the Biden administration’s new guidance, after expressing fear the men were entitled to 24 hours to contact an attorney before speaking with an asylum officer. It was during those 24 hours, they said, that CBP personnel refused to allow them “to make any calls or otherwise access legal counsel.”

They said an agent told them that no matter what happened, they would be sent back to Mexico. So, when the asylum officer asked if they wanted to wait longer in custody in order to access attorneys, the men waived that right, not wanting to spend more time in the crowded cell with their fate already decided.

The men added that they were not asked detailed questions about their medical history, even though the Biden administration’s new guidelines specify medical conditions for exemption from the program (original link). Though the guidance directs that those subject to Remain in Mexico are to receive COVID-19 vaccinations if they need them, one man who had only received the first of his two shots was sent over the border before officials could administer his vaccine.

CBP meanwhile confused the men’s paperwork, Morrissey found. Each man had the first page of the other’s notice to appear in court. And at first, they were scheduled for hearings months beyond the six-month limit that the Biden administration had agreed with Mexico. They managed to reschedule for February after raising the issue with their asylum officer.

Now in Tijuana, the Colombian men told Morrissey that they are “confused and terrified.” They refused to provide their names, fearing that their notoriety leaves them exposed to extortion or attack. “We’re the two from Colombia,” one said. “Everyone knows we’re them. We already have problems.”

— Kate Morrissey, “U.S. failure to follow Remain in Mexico rules show program hasn’t changed as promised” (San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune, January 8, 2022) https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2022-01-08/remain-in-mexico-returns-to-tijuana.

— Robert Silvers, “Guidance regarding the Court-Ordered Reimplementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols” (Washington: Department of Homeland Security, December 2, 2021) https://www.dhs.gov/publication/court-ordered-reimplementation-mpp-policy-guidance.

Sector(s): San Diego, San Diego Field Office

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, Office of Field Operations

Event Type(s): Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody, Dangerous Deportation, Denial of Access to Counsel

Last Known Accountability Status: No Steps Taken

Victim Classification: Colombia, Single Adult

Late December 2021 and Early January 2022

A January 2022 Human Rights First report discussed examples of CBP personnel hindering access to counsel for migrants placed into the “Remain in Mexico” (RMX) program, even though the Biden administration’s December 2021 guidance guarantees that those who fear return to Mexico may have the opportunity to consult with an attorney before their non-refoulement interviews with U.S. asylum officers (original link).

A Nicaraguan asylum seeker reported to Human Rights First that CBP officers threatened that his non-refoulment interview would be rescheduled and his detention in horrible CBP custody extended, if he insisted on speaking to an attorney, thereby pressuring him to go ahead without an attorney. In another case, CBP officers tricked an individual who is unable to read into signing a document waiving his opportunity to have counsel during the RMX fear screening interview. CBP officers told him that by signing the document he would be indicating that he had a fear of returning to Mexico, according to attorneys from the Border Project.

Multiple asylum seekers who did not pass RMX fear screening interviews and were returned to Ciudad Juárez in December 2021 reported that CBP officers falsely told them that they would have to pay for an attorney consultation for the RMX fear screening even though the Border Project was providing free legal consultations at the time. As a result, the individuals went ahead with their non-refoulement interviews without legal counsel.

In early December 2021, RMX returnees interviewed by Human Rights First in Ciudad Juárez said that they were not provided informational flyers explaining access to legal services until after the non-refoulement interview was completed or, in some cases, as they were being returned to Mexico by CBP. Several individuals returned to Tijuana under RMX in early January 2022 also reported that they were not informed that they could consult with a lawyer until after the non-refoulement interview was already completed, according to a volunteer with the California Welcoming Task Force.

CBP officers told a Nicaraguan asylum seeker detained in El Paso he could only speak with a lawyer selected for him by DHS, which he would have to pay for. The man told Human Rights First that his request to contact his family to ask them to hire a lawyer was denied by CBP. As a result, he was unable to speak with a lawyer before CBP returned him to Ciudad Juárez under RMX.

As RMX relaunched in San Diego in January 2022, asylum seekers and migrants there “told a volunteer from the California Welcoming Task Force that they were not informed of the opportunity to contact counsel prior to the non-refoulement interview and were told by CBP officers that they would be returned to Mexico regardless of the outcome of that interview.”

A Shameful Record: Biden Administration’s Use of Trump Policies Endangers People Seeking Asylum (New York: Human Rights First: January 13, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/shameful-record-biden-administration-s-use-trump-policies-endangers-people-seeking-asylum.

Sector(s): El Paso Field Office

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Denial of Access to Counsel, Lying or Deliberate Misleading

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Nicaragua, Single Adult