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CBP Issues Fake Court Date Notices to Keep Out Asylum Winners

December 12, 2019 (2 min read)

Hamed Aleaziz, BuzzFeed News, Dec. 10, 2019

"On a November day, just south of the Texas border, Francisco left the temporary shelter he’d been stuck in for four months to travel to a nearby port of entry in the US.

Francisco was one of more than 50,000 asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico under a controversial program from the Trump administration. His case had been working its way through the immigration courts. But he and his attorneys were optimistic that his long journey from Cuba toward protection in the US was nearly over.

A few weeks earlier, Francisco, 25, had been allowed to travel from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, to a temporary, secretive court set up by the Trump administration in Laredo, Texas. He and his attorneys made his case, through video teleconference, to immigration judge Eric Tijerina, whose image was beamed in from San Antonio.

Francisco told the court how he'd fled Cuba after being beaten and shackled by government officials for criticizing the Cuban government as a “dictatorship.” As a Cuban dissident, Francisco dreamed of living in the US, a country he had admired from afar for its democratic system and values.

On Nov. 21, the decision from Tijerina came in: “IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Respondent’s application for asylum pursuant to Section 208 of the Act be GRANTED.”

But what happened next is what immigration advocates and attorneys say is a troubling and apparently new trend of US officials going out of their way, including issuing fake court date notices, in order to keep even those who have been granted asylum out of the country.

With his court order in hand, Francisco traveled four days later to the port of entry — the same place where he had first applied for asylum in July — with his attorney. He gave the 14-page document to a US Customs and Border Protection official and requested he be let in.

Instead, a border official took Francisco aside and gave him a notice for a nonexistent court hearing in January, according to one of his attorneys, Lisa Koop, associate director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center. What’s more, Francisco would also have to wait in Mexico as Homeland Security officials used their allotted 30-day window to decide whether to appeal his case.

“He was distraught, dismayed, frustrated — the prospect of remaining in Mexico feels very unsafe,” Koop said, describing Francisco’s state of mind after being denied entry to the US.

When a BuzzFeed News reporter called the Department of Justice to confirm the hearing date given to Francisco, the automated phone line said that there was, in fact, no hearing date scheduled."