Senators and Democratic presidential candidates on Tuesday demanded the Department of Homeland Security provide an internal report claiming, among other things, that border officials pressured asylum officers to deny immigrants entry into the United States.
Sens. Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Chuck Schumer requested acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf provide the agency’s "Red Team" report. Obtained by BuzzFeed News, the report detailed a controversial policy called the Migration Protection Protocols, which keeps asylum-seekers in Mexico for the duration of their immigration cases. Separately, Sen. Patrick Leahy requested a copy.
A group of senior DHS leaders not involved with the policy compiled the report and provided a number of recommendations that suggest the program has created significant issues at the border.
“We write to request the release of the Department of Homeland Security’s ‘Red Team’ report prepared under the direction of former Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan,” the senators wrote. “I understand from press accounts that this report evaluates the efficacy of the [MPP] and recommends several policy changes to improve the MPP program for people seeking asylum in the United States.”
Leahy wrote in his letter that “BuzzFeed News published an article detailing the recommendations in an internal Department of Homeland Security report ... which describes serious, potentially illegal, and certainly immoral problems in the implementation of this administration’s [MPP].” In the letter, Leahy requested the report and the plans to act on its recommendations.
The “Red Team” recommendations call on agencies within DHS, including Customs and Border Protection, to provide immigration court hearing notices in multiple languages, improve language access for immigrants, and ensure that they understand the “questions asked and can make informed decisions.” They also suggest the agency standardize procedures for screening vulnerable populations, such as children and people with disabilities, and clarify the role of CBP officers in the process.
To that end, the program requires immigrants to affirmatively tell CBP officers that they fear for their safety in Mexico in order to have a chance of avoiding being returned to the country. In those cases, CBP officers should refer immigrants to be interviewed by asylum officers with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The recommendations, however, indicate that asylum-seekers have not been allowed to be interviewed by those officers, who have faced pressure from CBP to rule against those seeking protection.
DHS officials found that some immigrants have had to give up their shelter space in Mexico when they depart for the US for a court hearing and are then left without an address to follow up on their cases, according to the report. The officials recommended CBP create a “reliable method of communication” so immigrants can be reached during their wait. This will allow, they said, access to counsel and communication between immigrant families — including cases when family members were not processed at the same time or when children are separated from their parents.
DHS spokesperson Heather Swift told BuzzFeed News last week that the MPP "has been successful at every metric, improving the asylum process for more than 55,000 individuals, and the Department is committed to continually strengthening the program. The former acting secretary requested this independent, internal review of MPP because it has been such an effective program and will continue to be for the long term."
Swift added: "The department is committed to the integrity of MPP and will continue to assess and improve the program if and when necessary. Successful organizations continually audit and review their programs to develop best practices and seek ways to improve effectiveness and efficiency, which is why this report was requested."