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February 28, 2017

Violations at the Border: The El Paso Sector

On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed the “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” executive order. On February 20, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a memorandum implementing it. Although the executive order’s stated aim is to establish “control of the border,” one of its primary—and likely intended—consequences will be to restrict lawful access to asylum through policies that block access to protection at the border, increase the criminal prosecution of asylum seekers, and subject those who pursue asylum requests to arbitrary and lengthy detentions.[i] These policies violate U.S. law and treaty commitments relating to refugee protection.

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But even before Trump’s executive order, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have ignored the protections that Congress created for asylum seekers in a number of cases, disregarding official ICE guidance on detention of asylum seekers, and violating U.S. human rights and refugee obligations. These abuses occurred in a number of locations, including in the El Paso region, where a Human Rights First researcher visited earlier this month.

Some examples of violations include asylum seekers arriving at U.S. ports of entry being turned away, some being criminally prosecuted, and many asylum seekers landing in lengthy detentions due to automatic parole denials. Through the executive order and its implementing memorandum,[ii] the Trump Administration is essentially converting these rights-violating practices into official U.S. policy.

The El Paso sector, one of nine Border Patrol sectors that run along the southwest border of the United States with Mexico, is one of the largest and most populated, encompassing 125,500 square miles including the entire state of New Mexico and part of west Texas.[iii] In fiscal year 2016 the El Paso sector saw a 364 percent increase in the number of families seeking to enter the United States, and a 134 percent increase in the number of unaccompanied children.[iv]