Exclusive: Civil servants say they’re being used as pawns in a dangerous asylum program

The first time that one immigration officer interviewed an asylum seeker under new Trump administration protocols, the officer went back to their hotel room, turned up the shower as hot as it would go, and tried to wash off the feeling of being manipulated.

The officer had just listened to the Central American’s story of threats from drug cartels during his journey through Mexico en route to the US, and believed the man’s life was in danger. “This was a guy truly afraid he was going to be murdered, and frankly, he might be,” the officer told Vox.

But the officer “wasn’t even allowed to make an argument” that the asylum seeker should be allowed to stay in the US to pursue his case. They signed — feeling they had no choice — a form stating the migrant wasn’t likely to be persecuted in Mexico, and therefore could be safely returned.

Many asylum officers are concerned that the integrity of their office is at stake — along with their names.

“We were enlisted to give our blessing through these interviews,” another officer told Vox. “It’s our names on the forms.”

But “it seems like all of this is lip service.”

Asylum officers have raised concerns with their union. Vox spoke with several of them in their capacity as union members, in meetings facilitated and attended by the head of the union representing immigration officers in US Citizenship and Immigration Services, about how the new procedures have changed their jobs. (Vox granted them anonymity because they fear retaliation from superiors for speaking to the press.)

For decades, officers made judgment calls on whether a person could stay in the US to await an asylum hearing. Under the new rules, officers say they effectively have no power to do so. “I’m not adjudicating that case. It’s like someone else sticking their hand inside me, like a glove,” the officer told me.

An asylum officer’s primary job is to make sure an asylum seeker wouldn’t be persecuted if they’re turned away from the US: to uphold the fundamental principle of refugee law called non-refoulement, that a government must not send a migrant back to a country where they’d be persecuted or imperiled.

By Dara Lind for V O X

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