Two controversial pilot programs that sought to quickly deport Mexican and Central American asylum seekers at 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 facilities with limited privacy.
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 quickly and potentially filter return asylum seekers to the border.
Under HARP, Mexican asylum seekers detained by border patrol officers underwent a pre-screening called a credible fear interview within 48 hours by asylum officers from the citizenship and immigration services. of the United States (USCIS), and the screening decision 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 has instead chosen to immediately return asylum seekers, including children, to the border.
DHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The inspectors focused their investigation in the El Paso area, where they found numerous problems with the pilot programs, including families who remained in border patrol custody for more than a week, beyond the 72 hour standard for immigration detention in CBP custody.
Inspectors, however, highlighted the lack of privacy at border facilities.
The report claims that the facility’s large cells have prompted CBP officials to fight dueling detention standards: those that enforce family unity while requiring the separation of women and children from unrelated men. CBP officials gathered different families and as a result, the women and girls in the cells were held with men and boys who were not family members.
“We found that CBP brought many families together in large open cells in El Paso [Central Processing Center] without guarantee of privacy or separation of minors from unrelated adults, ”the report said. In one cell, two 14-year-old girls were detained along 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 supervise 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 recreation 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 struggled to ensure the confidentiality of migrants to speak on their own to legal consultants and government officials. 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. Prior to the interview, immigrants use the time in detention to consult lawyers or others to help them prepare their case.
Ultimately, only a small percentage of each of these groups passed their initial asylum selection interview: 19% for PACR and 29% for HARP.
The Inspector General’s draft report was a draft document, and inspectors plan to assess the rest of the border sites in the future.