Good things don’t always come to those who wait. This is the harsh reality of asylum seekers who have recently reached our ports of entry and are turned back by US officials, only to wait indefinitely for a chance at refuge in America that may never come.
Notwithstanding the recent change in US policy on family separation, the outlook for asylum seekers at the border remains bleak. Despite the Department of Homeland Security’s claim that it’s a “myth” that the US is turning asylum seekers away at ports of entry, our team at the border has witnessed officials doing exactly that.
Consider Laura’s story.
By June 12, 29-year-old Laura and her 6-year-old son Nicolas had been sitting on the hot sidewalk of the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge for three days, just 20 feet away from a plaque that marked the international boundary line between Mexico and the United States. Sitting in the shade of a jury-rigged bit of canvas, Laura explained that she had left her native Honduras, intent on escaping her violent husband, a police officer who would beat her with impunity because pleas to her government were ignored. She had made her way through Mexico, heading to Matamoros where she had hoped to cross into the U.S. through a port of entry to apply for asylum.
Laura had heard that the United States had begun separating parents from their children, but she believed that coming through a port of entry would protect her and her son from that new form of government-sanctioned terror. Laura obviously had not heard that she could still have Nicolas taken from her at the port of entry, as has happened to a number of families over this past year.
Laura’s hopes and good intentions ran into a gauntlet formed by three US Customs and Border Protection officers standing just on the US side of that boundary marker. The officers were stopping and turning away anyone who had intended to request asylum from entering the United States.
“They keep telling me to go come back later, that there is no room for people like me (asylum seekers), and that I should try again in five or six hours,” Laura explained. “But I have been here for three days, along with these other people waiting here, and no one gets in.”
Although a stiff breeze from the Gulf swept across the bridge, the heat was sweltering and the sun merciless. There were no water fountains or restrooms. Laura and the other families camped out on the Mexican side of the boundary were depending upon the kindness of strangers for their necessities. The people waiting on the bridge were miserable, and they were becoming desperate. One supervisor, when confronted about a mother and child who had been sitting on the bridge for days, candidly admitted, “I don’t really care.” Other CBP officers acknowledged that a supervisor, in fact, can allow an asylum seeker to cross the boundary line.
More than six weeks have passed since Laura and Nicolas were sitting on that bridge, just a couple of feet from Brownsville. We do not know what has happened to them or to the others who were enduring the hellish misery over those long days. Perhaps, in the end, Laura had been let through the bridge checkpoint and allowed to make her application for asylum. And perhaps she and her son were allowed to be together, or maybe they were separated. Maybe Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen’s underlings forced Laura into the Sophie’s choice of choosing to be deported with her son or to be separated from him. Perhaps Laura gave up on coming into the US at the port of entry and took her chances by crossing through the river. The uncertainty can drive an advocate mad, but it pales to the agony these families go through.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘At US Ports of Entry, the Government Is Denying Asylum to Those Seeking Refuge’.