The Department of Homeland Security is breaking the law to rush separated immigrant mothers out of the U.S., according to an advocate working with detained women.
Laura Lunn, managing attorney for the detention program of the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, told The Daily Beast that numerous detained women she’s spoken to say they were placed in expedited removal proceedings without being asked by Customs and Border Patrol officials if they were afraid of returning to their home countries.
Lunn said she represents women detained in Colorado, including many who have been separated from their children under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new “zero tolerance” policy.
“It’s been a significant number of people we’ve met with who say they were never asked if they had a fear,” Lunn said.
That’s important because before DHS can put an immigrant into expedited removal proceedings, the law requires that officials determine if the immigrant is seeking asylum, according to immigration attorneys.
“That’s a violation of the law,” Lunn said. “When somebody is put into expedited removal, the government has to ask them if they have a fear of return because that’s what puts the brakes on just deporting them, and that is their right under the asylum statute. And that’s not happening.”
“That’s not a new phenomenon,” she added, “but we’re seeing it in mass scale right now.”
Lunn did not share the names of immigrants who have been put in expedited removal without being asked about fear of returning home, and said the women are very fearful and worry about their children. Advocates fear that immigrants who speak on the record about alleged DHS lawbreaking could face retaliation in their immigration court proceedings.
Katie Shepherd of the American Immigration Council said CPB violates the law if its officers don’t give immigrants a chance to express their fear before putting them into speedy removal proceedings.
“Individuals placed in expedited removal proceedings must be referred to an asylum officer for an interview to determine if they have a ‘credible fear’ of persecution,” she told The Daily Beast. “Failure to do so is a violation of law and could result in a legitimate asylum seeker being deported to imminent harm or even death.”
David Leopold, an immigration attorney who formerly headed the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he found Lunn’s allegations to be chilling.
“Customs and Border Protection officers have a duty to understand and figure out whether or not a person is in fear for their life, fear of persecution before they subject them to the harshness of expedited removal and immediate return to their country,” he said. “They have to ask that question.”
He added that allegations of a pattern of officers neglecting to ask immigrants about potential fear of return would be a significant change.
“This allegation is very serious and it must be investigated,” he said.
A DHS official told The Daily Beast that the lack of detail with the allegations made it hard for the agency to respond.
“DHS complies with federal law with regard to processing individuals claiming asylum,” the official said. “It is hard for us to respond to claims without the specificity needed to look into it further.”