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Top Immigration Officials Gave Asylum Officers The Wrong Instructions On Trump’s New Restrictive Policy

The botched guidance was corrected in an email three days after it was sent to border officials around the country.

Last updated on August 20, 2019, at 8:08 p.m. ET

Posted on August 20, 2019, at 3:49 p.m. ET

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli

On Tuesday, immigration officials rushed to correct guidance sent to asylum officers across the country that could have mistakenly applied a Trump administration policy denying asylum to immigrants who passed through Mexico before reaching the US to some of the wrong people, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The guidance sent Saturday to asylum officers came after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday allowed for the policy, which denies asylum to people who passed through Mexico but did not apply for protections there, to be implemented in southern border states outside areas the court covers, such as New Mexico or Texas. The court covers California and Arizona.

A lead official at US Citizenship and Immigration Services emailed the incorrect guidance to asylum officers. The email said the policy applied to all individuals who had filed affirmative asylum applications on or after the date the policy was implemented on July 16 and that remained pending after Aug. 16, the date of the 9th Circuit ruling.

But that email critically didn’t mention when the person entered the US. Asylum applications can legally be filed within one year of a person entering the country, and hundreds of thousands of people do this every year.

The correct policy only applies to those who entered or attempted to enter the country on or after July 16, not to those who came before that date and are still within the year time frame to file.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins, denied the agency's guidance was corrected.

"USCIS took broad and immediate action consistent with the court order and issued more specific guidance once we had time to fully analyze the court order. Neither guidance contradicts the other," she said.

On Tuesday, the same USCIS official sent an email to USCIS officers saying that the guidance sent Saturday was “withdrawn” and would be replaced by updated guidance. The official added the new details as a “reminder” to the asylum officers.

“The fact that they lumped in tens of thousands of potential asylum applications shows that implementation was not thoroughly thought out before being distributed to the asylum officers and this is part of a pattern of moving forward with policies before the implementation has been thoroughly vetted,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

The ban applies not just to Central Americans, but any immigrants who are not Mexican but travel through Mexico. In recent months, Cubans, Haitians, and Venezuelans have applied for asylum at the southern border in higher numbers. The ban applies to people who are apprehended crossing the border during the first screening process, known as the “credible fear” screening.

The ACLU filed suit over the policy soon after it was enacted, winning a nationwide injunction by a federal court judge in San Francisco on July 24. But, on Friday, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel allowed for the policy to remain in place in areas outside its jurisdiction.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.