Federal Employees Union Tries to Block Migrant Deportations

It takes no great insight to recognize there is a rapidly worsening security crisis along our southern border. Remarkably, a union representing federal employees handling this crisis is enabling it. Last Wednesday, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924 filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco in support of a lawsuit to block enforcement of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Since its launch in January, the program has returned about 13,000 asylum seekers and refugees to Mexico. MPP, reads the complaint, is “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation.” Such high-minded rhetoric, among other things, ignores the fact that these migrants entered the U.S. illegally, often with the intent to exploit our system of public benefits.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the many photos of “caravans” of thousands of Hispanics, especially Central Americans, aggressively marching toward our southern border speak volumes. As National Legal and Policy Center explained last November, these marches are stage-managed by a tight network of ethnic radicals operating mainly out of Chicago. And the intent is to render our border enforcement inoperable. This illegal immigration surge is reflected in Department of Homeland Security data. This past May, 144,200 persons were taken into custody by U.S. immigration officials while attempting to enter our country from Mexico without authorization. Many of these people were removed as inadmissible; others returned home on their own; and still others are under consideration for humanitarian protection. As it was, the figures for February, March and April each set new records. The growth has been nothing short of explosive. During the first several months of 2017 the average monthly figure was less than 20,000. That actually was down from roughly 40,000 a month during the Obama era, a sure sign that President Trump’s early border protection executive orders, or at least rhetoric in support of them, were succeeding. But taking a broader view, almost everything the administration has attempted to accomplish has been thwarted by congressional Democrats (with occasional help from Republicans), federal judges, and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel.

The weeks-long, asylum-seeking caravan march last fall, which originated in Honduras and culminated in a riot along our border across from Tijuana, Mexico, underscored the precarious nature of our situation. Exacerbating this crisis was the deluge of media-generated publicity given to DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention of Hispanic migrant children whose parents, many of whom use smugglers to sneak them in, had brought them here illegally under the guise of seeking asylum from persecution back home. That these claims of persecution were likely false mattered little to such critics. Neither did the fact that by any reasonable definition, these parents were guilty of reckless endangerment of their children. And neither did the fact that the shelters temporarily housing those children actually protected them from starvation, dehydration, kidnapping or death. All that mattered to Trump haters, it seemed, was a ready-made opportunity to denounce the administration for operating “concentration camps.”

The Trump administration’s response to the flood of asylum requests was a new program called Migrant Protection Protocols. Announced on January 24, 2019, MPP authorizes the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to send foreign individuals here illegally or without documentation to Mexico during removal proceedings. Mexico in turn would protect these persons in accordance with agreed-upon humanitarian principles. Deriving its authority from Section 235 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, the program seeks to reconcile the often-conflicting goals of border protection and human rights. On one hand, MPP would minimize the occurrence of bogus claims of persecution back home – and about nine out of 10 are – as a means of obtaining entry into our country. On the other hand, the program would guarantee the health and safety of persons temporarily denied entry. Unaccompanied alien children and aliens in expedited removal proceedings would not be covered. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained: “This humanitarian approach will help to end the exploitation of our generous immigration laws. The Migrant Protection Protocols represent a methodical commonsense approach, exercising longstanding statutory authority to help address the crisis at our Southern border.”

A lot of ideologically inclined people in our country, unfortunately, are insisting on treating MPP as an attack upon the innocent. And they are trying to stop the program dead in its tracks. That it might be in our national interest to vet asylum applications before approving them doesn’t seem to register on their radar screens. For them, our borders must be open to anyone. Among the cast of critics, ironically, is the very union representing employees who are running the program. On June 26, the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation of Government Employees Local 1924 filed a 37-page amicus brief in hopes of blocking MPP enforcement. A group of asylum-seeking plaintiffs, whose sources of legal help include the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, are claiming that the program represents a “widespread violation” of U.S. and international law. “Asylum officers are duty-bound to protect vulnerable asylum seekers from persecution,” reads the brief. “They should not be forced to honor departmental directives that are fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation and our international and domestic legal obligations.”

The lead attorneys for the plaintiffs, a radical Portland, Oregon group called Innovation Law Lab, are employing an innovative argument. According to international treaties signed by the U.S. and other nations in the aftermath of World War II, the lawyers maintains, our immigration law implicitly rests on the principle of “non-befoulment.” This is the idea that migrants who arrive at a signatory nation cannot be sent back where they could be imprisoned, harmed or killed. Current U.S. law states that to qualify for asylum in this country, a migrant applicant must demonstrate that he or she faces harm back home based on “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.” The plaintiffs think this burden of proof shouldn’t exist. Mexico, the temporary destination of people removed under MPP, supposedly is too dangerous in particular for asylum seekers, especially women, gays, lesbians and indigenous minority groups from Central America. And since its government isn’t up to the task, to repatriate migrants to that country is illegal. “(D)espite professing a commitment to protecting the rights of people seeking asylum,” reads the amicus brief by AFGE Local 1924, “the Mexican government has proven unable to provide this protection.” In effect, the plaintiffs are arguing that there is a universal right to come to America and that removing applicants even temporarily prior to an asylum decision is unjust.

By aligning itself with this sophistry, the union is revealing its contempt for the laws to which its roughly 2,500 members are sworn to uphold. Contrary to their moral grandstanding, there is nothing in the program that runs contrary to our “moral fabric.” Yet its members, who are employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency almost entirely funded by user fees (and thus possessed of an incentive to maximize the number of migrant users), think it does. This is nothing new. During the Bush and then the Obama years, USCIS worked to sabotage immigration law enforcement, consistently putting visa and asylum applications on a fast track for approval while ignoring the motives of the applicants. This pattern has continued under the present administration, first under Director L. Francis Cissna (until his firing by President Trump in late May) and now under Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.

Cuccinelli, who served as Virginia Attorney General several years ago, is facing an intolerable processing backlog. Lawyers for the Department of Justice have stated in recent court filings that the migrant asylum claim explosion is driven heavily by fraud. USCIS bureaucrats, overwhelmed by their workload, are facilitating the release of sham applicants into the U.S., pending court hearings that may take years to take place. The Trump administration instituted the Migrant Protection Protocols in January precisely to alleviate this workload. Predictably, a coalition of open-borders zealots on February 14 filed suit in San Francisco federal court to end MPP. Less than two months later, on April 8, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg, an Obama appointee, enjoined enforcement of the program, saying it likely violated federal law. Days later, the government appealed for a stay of the injunction. This procedural move succeeded. In May, a three-judge circuit court panel in San Francisco allowed MPP to continue while it reviews the constitutionality of the program. If the radical advocates win, they will have AFGE Local 1924 in some measure to thank.

USCIS’ Cuccinelli, though not an immigration hardliner, quite properly is calling out the union. On June 27, one day after Local 1924 filed its friend-of-the-court brief, he issued the following statement on behalf of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services:

Union leadership continues to play games while the border crisis intensifies. Lives are being lost, detention facilities are unsustainably overcrowded, and illegal aliens with frivolous claims continue to overwhelm our system. The fact of the matter remains that our officers signed up to protect the truly vulnerable, our asylum system, and most importantly, our country. A cheap political stunt helps no one and certainly does not help to contain this crisis.

Our Southern border is facing a daily crisis of aliens overwhelming our ports of entry, many of whom are attempting to enter and remain in the country in violation of our laws. Thus far, in Fiscal Year 2019, DHS has already apprehended more than 600,000 people at the Southern border.

We have reached the critical breaking point, and USCIS must continue to do our part to help stem this crisis and better secure the homeland.

This is what everyone at the Department of Homeland Security, not just at USCIS, should be saying. Unfortunately, there are employees who not only aren’t on board with this mission, but are working through the legal system to subvert it. They are a disgrace to their employer and to the nation. It isn’t enough to denounce AFGE Local 1924 for using member dues to cripple a program essential to our national security. Common sense dictates that if these employees are refusing to do their jobs, they should be fired. On top of that, they should be investigated for possible lawbreaking under Title 8, Section 1324 of the U.S. Criminal Code.

The crisis at our southern border is real. It threatens our existence as a nation. Yet signs of hope can be found. Last week the Department of Homeland Security issued a preliminary estimate that migrant arrests along our southern border for June would decline by as much as 25 percent from May. It is a mark of the ferocity of mass immigration advocates that they view even minimal restrictions on immigration as oppressive. President Trump, if anything, has been flexible to a fault. Among other things, he has waffled on abolishing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Obama had created via executive memo in June 2012. Notwithstanding, he is committed to restoring order along the border. Local 1924 of the American Federation of Government Employees doesn’t seem to think much of that commitment. Hopefully, this renegade union will be proven wrong in court.