~ by Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
A joint report by the Kino Border Initiative and Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, details complaints lodged against U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents against those seeking asylum at the Arizona-Mexico border.
The 34 specific incidents in the report are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Joanna Williams, the new executive director of the Kino Border Institute.
The report, “Due Process Denied,” is based on exchanges earlier this year between Kino officials and Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security. The initial volley, according to Williams, came from Kino in February, with a list of complaints against Custom and Border Protection over alleged abused during the Trump administration.
One incident documented in “Due Process Denied” is a case Williams worked on herself.
A would-be asylum-seeker having entered the U.S. from Guatemala made her way to the U.S. government agency’s border facility in Tucson, Arizona. “She was sent into a room with a TV, and on the TV screen it said that if anyone was experiencing violence, they should speak to an agent. She then called the agents and said she wanted to apply for asylum. They told her that was unavailable because of the pandemic,” the report said.
“The agents started yelling at her that she should have gone to a port of entry if she wanted asylum, and that she was breaking the law by coming this way. They said that she was does was the mafia does, crossing the border illegally. Additionally, officers threw the name of her abuser in her face and taunted her, telling her they were going to call him.
“She felt humiliated by the agent’s actions. By this time, she had had three separate agents decline to help her apply for asylum,” the report said, adding that the woman was expelled to Mexico the next morning.” Kino has yet to hear from the agency about the complaint’s status.”
“We really haven’t seen any improvement in the way people fleeing violence are being treated. It tuns contrary to our Catholic values,” Williams told Catholic News Service. Since joining Kino in 2016, “this is my third administration,” she said. “We always believe we could work toward being a more welcoming country. That’s part of our Catholic values.”
While Kino waits for a response, Williams was heartened by a September 2 ruling by a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of California that declared illegal the government’s “turnback” policy of the past four years, where it would refuse to process asylum requests at ports of entry at the southern border, forcing would be asylum-seekers to go back into Mexico and wait for weeks or months before filing an asylum request.
“That’s huge news,” Williams said. “It recognizes that we need to respect U.S. law at the border and we just can’t push it aside for convenience’s sake. The moral and community implications of this is a sign of hope after years of work,” she said, but she also added: “We still have an uphill battle.”