HOUSTON, TX – U.S. border officers charged with turning away asylum seekers under Trump administration policy accused their leadership of misleading the public and disregarding concerns for their own safety, according to documents released to The Associated Press.
A March 2019 letter sent to the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection demanded that he intervene to ensure the agency's front-line employees at one Texas bridge “are not injured or killed” enforcing the policy limiting the number of asylum seekers allowed in the U.S. The letter further challenges claims repeatedly made by President Donald Trump's top immigration officials that his efforts to limit asylum have improved public safety while treating migrants humanely.
It was written by David Atkinson, the Hidalgo, Texas, chapter president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents CBP employees at official ports of entry.
Texas is separated from Mexico by the Rio Grande and connected by bridges. Since the early days of the Trump administration, CBP has positioned officers and installed booths at the center of those bridges to stop asylum seekers from reaching the U.S. side. Some bridges allow no more than a few people to cross daily.
The practice is informally known as “ metering.” CBP has long contended that with a surging number of migrant families seeking asylum — with record highs set earlier this year — it doesn't have enough capacity to take in everyone at once.
Atkinson argued in his letter to then CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan that “metering” was “putting the asylum seekers and employees in pest-infected areas known to be susceptible to gunshots." Reynosa, the city across from the Hidalgo, Texas, bridge, is one of the most dangerous in Mexico.
The employees carrying out those policies also “would like something in writing to protect their ordered activities, as the Agency is claiming publicly that they are not conducting these activities when they really are," Atkinson wrote.
Atkinson also acknowledged an open secret in many border towns: The wait lists created due to metering have fueled cartel business and officials seeking bribes to move migrants up in line. He wrote that officers were informed that Mexican officials are allowed to run the bridge “for the right price.”