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Lawsuit says CBP agents are illegally turning asylum seekers away

Asylum seekers are people whose lives are under serious threat. To qualify for asylum in the U.S., you have to show that you have been threatened with or suffered persecution by the government in your home country or by someone that government cannot control. That persecution must be based on your race, nationality, political affiliation, religion or membership in a particular social group.

Both U.S. and international law require that anyone seeking asylum must be granted an interview to determine if their claim is credible. But now, some human rights activists claim that representatives of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been illegally turning asylum seekers away at our borders.

The American Immigration Council and other groups have filed a class-action lawsuit against the CBP's parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security. They have also released audio footage that they say demonstrates a common scenario.

The activists say the problem has gotten a lot worse under the Trump Administration, which has put stricter controls in place on the asylum screening process. Those controls, however, would not affect the United States' obligation to grant a hearing to asylum seekers.

In order to unlawfully turn asylum seekers away or dissuade them from making a claim, the activists say, U.S. border agents have been heard telling people that they need visas before they can apply for asylum. Or, they say that parents will be separated from their children. Some have even said that President Trump has eliminated the asylum program altogether.

"These things are simply untrue," says the legal director of the American Immigration Council. "All of these tactics serve to deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims."

According to NPR, the group Human Rights First obtained the audio recording from two volunteer advocates who were trying to help a Honduran family seek asylum at California's San Ysidro port of entry. The family of five is allegedly fleeing a murderous gang.

In the audio recording, a CBP agent can be heard claiming that the family must register with Mexican immigration authorities before they can seek asylum in the U.S. This is also untrue, as the family has no connection to Mexico. They had, in fact, already checked with Mexican authorities, who turned them away.

The volunteer advocates push back, but another CBP agent insists that a relationship has been set up with Mexico to help the understaffed and overwhelmed CPB process asylum seekers. This is untrue, as well.

Only once the advocates have brought supervisors into the dispute do the agents agree to process the asylum request.

A spokesperson from the CBP would not comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed that the agency "has not changed any policies affecting asylum procedures."

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