Why I Quit My Job Carrying Out Trump's Immigration Policies
A former asylum officer says "remain in Mexico" and other policies undermining asylum aren't just racist, they're illegal.
In the Video Op-Ed above, a former asylum officer reveals why he resigned: to protest President Trump's policy requiring migrants to remain in Mexico while awaiting hearings.
Doug Stephens had been an asylum officer for two years. But two days and five interviews that resulted in sending asylum seekers back to danger shook him. He drafted a memo detailing his legal objections to the policy, and circulated it to 80 of his colleagues, his supervisors and a member of Congress. And then he quit.
Mr. Stephens is not the only asylum officer who has grappled with following orders. In interviews with a half-dozen current and former asylum officers across the country, The Times learned of individuals leaving their posts, requesting job transfers and falling into deep depression.
The right to asylum has been a cornerstone of international immigration law since the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The United States, along with 144 other nations, made a commitment to protect those who arrive at our borders with "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
To date, Mr. Trump's remain in Mexico policy, officially known as one of the "Migrant Protection Protocols," has left nearly 58,000 asylum seekers stranded in Mexico.
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I started up the asylum office in September 2017 and I was an asylum officer for two years. I was asked to do work that I believe to be illegal and immoral. Ultimately I had to voice my dissent and quit. And the asylum program is a scam. I didn’t think of myself as a whistle-blower but I guess, I guess I am. Most victims of gang violence and domestic abuse will not qualify for asylum. Before I sat down and really figured out that it was illegal, I was able to sort of disassociate. It’s just another bad thing that was happening by this administration but it didn’t directly affect me. Trump has proposed charging a fee to process the legal asylum applications. Our country is full. Can’t take it anymore. I’m sorry, can’t happen, so turn around. That’s the way it is. The government is sending them back to Mexico. It’s an expansion of the controversial Remain in Mexico policy. The administration is clearly trying to destroy the asylum program. The standard for asylum was essentially a 1 in 10 chance of being persecuted in your home country. But with Remain in Mexico, the entire nature of the work changed. The level of proof that we are requiring of people to show that they would be harmed in Mexico is much, much, much, much higher. A migrant has to show that it’s more likely than not, through a phone line that’s disconnecting, actively denying them access to a lawyer, not giving them any time to rest, not giving them any chance to gather or produce evidence. Everybody fails. I knew by leaving I was just another individual that was protesting and leaving and making the office that much weaker. So I have guilt I think for that and I have guilt for not pushing the issue further while I was still an asylum officer. I heard stories from other asylum officers where they interviewed people who were literally raped by the police in Mexico and then the supervisors were saying, “That’s not enough.” That you haven’t shown maybe that you can’t move somewhere else in Mexico. So even though you’ve clearly been harmed in Mexico by the government in Mexico, we’re going to say you can still safely live in Mexico. I was both very sad and angry at the same time because what is the purpose of this? It was like this little window into how bad things happen in the world. This is how you get a group of good people that are in a position to try and do good and slowly pivot them to do bad. This isn’t a partisan issue. It is in Congress’s power to stop these illegal activities. I mean, this is a question of who we are as Americans, right? This is a question of whether we continue we continue to shut our door on people in need and to reject individuals that we say we’re going to accept on the Statue of Liberty, or if we embrace the ideal of America that we all want to believe in. We’re just rejecting it, we’re destroying that ideal and we’re becoming the opposite.