SAN DIEGO -- Asylum-seekers who have finished their court cases are being sent back to Mexico with documents that contain fraudulent future court dates, keeping some migrants south of the border indefinitely, records show.
Under the Migrant Protection Protocols policy, asylum-seekers with cases in the United States have to wait in Mexico until those cases are resolved. The Mexican government agreed to only accept migrants with future court dates scheduled.
Normally, when migrants conclude their immigration court cases, they are either paroled into the United States or kept in federal custody depending on the outcome of the case.
However, records obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune show that on at least 14 occasions, Customs and Border Protection agents in California and Texas gave migrants who had already concluded their court cases documents with fraudulent future court dates written on them and sent the migrants back to Mexico anyway.
Those documents, unofficially known as tear sheets, are given to every migrant in the Migrant Protection Protocols program who is sent back to Mexico. The document tells the migrants where and when to appear at the border so that they can be transported to immigration court. What is different about the tear sheets that migrants with closed cases receive, is that the future court date is not legitimate, according to multiple immigration lawyers whose clients have received these documents.
This has happened both to migrants who have been granted asylum and to those who had their cases terminated -- meaning a judge closed the case without making a formal decision, usually on procedural grounds. Additionally, at least one migrant was physically assaulted after being sent back to Mexico this way, according to her lawyer.
Bashir Ghazialam, a San Diego-based immigration lawyer who represents six people who received these fake future court dates, said he was shocked by the developments.
"This is fraud," he said. "I don't call everything fraud. This is the first time I've used the words 'U.S. government' and 'fraud' in the same sentence. No one should be OK with this."
The Department of Homeland Security and Custom and Border Protection did not respond to multiple requests to comment about why they had engaged in the practice.
Ghazialam first noticed this in September, when three of his clients were sent back to Mexico after their cases were terminated on Sept. 17. After the judge made his decision, the family spent ten days in CBP custody.