The Trump Administration has been doing everything it can to block asylum seekers from reaching our shores (everything, that is, except working with Congress to reform the law). Many of the Administration's policies are legally questionable (to put it mildly), and have been challenged in federal court. Now, in an extraordinary move, a union that represents Asylum Officers has filed an amicus brief opposing a policy of President Trump (their boss).

The Administration policy at issue is officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP. It is also called the "Remain in Mexico" plan, and it requires many asylum seekers entering the United States from Mexico illegally or without proper documentation to be returned to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceeding. As a result of the MPP, over 12,000 people have been forced to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated in the U.S.

The problems with the MPP are too numerous to list here. But for starters, Mexico is not a safe place for many asylum seekers, especially women, children, and sexual and ethnic minorities. Another problem is that asylum applicants stuck in Mexico have less access to legal assistance and less due process of law. Of course, all this is by design, as the MPP is clearly meant to deter people from seeking asylum by punishing those who have the temerity to ask us for help.

Apparently, the MPP was also too much for many Asylum Officers, who are charged with evaluating asylum claims made by people arriving at our Southern border. Through their union, Local 1924, a group of Officers filed an "amicus" or "friend of the court" brief supporting a lawsuit that seeks to block the MPP. Amicus briefs must include a "statement of interest," explaining why the filing party has an interest in the matter. Here is what Local 1924 had to say:

Local 1924 has a special interest in this case because, as the collective bargaining unit of federal government employees who are at the forefront of interviewing and adjudicating the claims of individuals seeking asylum in the United States, Local 1924’s members have first-hand knowledge as to whether the MPP assures the United States’ compliance with international and domestic laws concerning due process for asylum seekers and the protection of refugees and whether the MPP is necessary to deal with the flow of migrants through our Nation’s Southern Border.

There are two main reasons that Local 1924 objects to the MPP:
  • In the course of waiting [in Mexico] for a determination of their asylum applications, many [asylum seekers] will face persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. By forcing a vulnerable population to return to a hostile territory where they are likely to face persecution, the MPP abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and violates our international and domestic legal obligations.
  • Moreover, the MPP is entirely unnecessary, as our immigration system has the foundation and agility necessary to deal with the flow of migrants through our Southern Border. The system has been tested time and again, and it is fully capable—with additional resources where appropriate--of efficiently processing asylum claims... The MPP, contrary to the Administration’s claim, does nothing to streamline the process, but instead increases the burdens on our immigration courts and makes the system more inefficient.

In short, the officers charged with enforcing the asylum law at the Southern border think that the MPP violates the law and endangers people who our country is obliged (under international and domestic law) to protect.

Predictably, the Acting Director of USCIS (which oversees the Asylum Division), Ken Cuccinelli, issued a statement "blasting" the amicus brief:

Union leadership continues to play games while the border crisis intensifies. Lives are being lost, detention facilities are unsustainably overcrowded, and illegal aliens with frivolous claims continue to overwhelm our system. The fact of the matter remains that our officers signed up to protect the truly vulnerable, our asylum system, and most importantly, our country. A cheap political stunt helps no one and certainly does not help to contain this crisis.

In his statement, Mr. Cuccinelli fails to address any of the substantive claims raised in the amicus brief (shocking, I know). Instead, he falls back on the old talking point that frivolous asylum claims are somehow to blame for the crisis at the border. Of course, there is little evidence to support this position, but as a climate-change denier, Mr. Cuccinelli is obviously not beholden to concepts such as evidence or common sense (or common decency).

In my experience, most Asylum Officers take their jobs very seriously. They recognize their duty to uphold the asylum law and to grant or deny protection where appropriate. They also recognize their duty to protect the United States. This sense of responsibility to country stands in sharp contrast to the arrogance of the Trump Administration and the USCIS Acting Director, who seem to think they can run roughshod over our nation's laws and force government employees to do the same. For this reason, I think the amicus brief is significant: It stands as an expression of independence of Asylum Officers (or at least those in Local 1924) to make decisions in accordance with the law, even when their higher-ups demand that they do otherwise.

I hope Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges around the country will take note. I hope that they will read the amicus brief, particularly the recitation of our country's proud (but imperfect) history of protecting people fleeing harm. And most of all, I hope Officers and Judges will continue to follow the law, even when the political leadership pushes them to ignore it. Following and enforcing the law is the ultimate "rebellion" against the current Administration's lawlessness. Our asylum system, our country's moral integrity, and the lives of asylum seekers all depend on it.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: