Empty Holding Cells Suggest CBP Is Needlessly Turning Away Asylum-Seekers

Posted on 03/03/20

Since 2016, immigration officers at the southern border have implemented a “metering” policy, in which they accept only a certain number of asylum-seekers per day. They place the rest of the asylum-seekers on a waiting list and send them to border towns in Mexico.

The reason for this policy, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is limited holding capacity. But data analysts recently reported a vast portion of half-empty holding cells. A federal appeals court released this data during a lawsuit against the Trump administration, and legal advocates have labeled the data as evidence that the metering policy is wholly unnecessary.

CBP has attributed the significant number of empty cells to a lack of manpower needed to process migrants. Additionally, they claim they need to isolate certain migrants in their own cells due to disease or a history of crime, so the capacity continuously fluctuates. Officials have also stated that migrant processing is lower on the priority list than managing lawful trade and travel, implementing national security measures, and preventing drug-trafficking.

Immigrant advocacy groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center question this reasoning. Many of the cells along the Mexican border are less than half-full or even empty, while 19,000 asylum-seekers on waiting lists face significant dangers for weeks or months in Mexican cities with high crime rates. On the other hand, treatment in holding cells in the last few years has arguably been just as dangerous.

Either way, it’s difficult to give CBP the benefit of the doubt and assume officials are doing everything they can to accomplish international humanitarian goals. The metering policy is one of many methods the Trump administration has employed to limit asylum.

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