WASHINGTON — Two top officials with US Customs and Border Protection firmly stated Tuesday that they would abide by the law in hearing asylum claims at the southern border if President Donald Trump were to order agents to bar migrants from seeking asylum.
During a hearing before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Randy Howe, the executive director of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, said the agency would be “bound” to hear from individuals claiming asylum if they cross into the United States at a port of entry.
“If they enter the United States across the boundary line at the port of entry and they claim asylum, we would be bound to hear that asylum claim,” Howe told the committee.
CNN reported that when Trump visited Calexico, California, last Friday, he told border agents to not let migrants in. After Trump left, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving them that direction.
Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada asked Howe and Rodolfo Karisch, the chief patrol agent of the Rio Grande Valley sector, on Tuesday if they would be following instructions from the President.
“We know what the law is and our attorneys are here to advise us,” Howe said, adding, “I will follow the guidance that we receive from our attorneys.”
Karisch said that although illegal entry would result in arrest, it would also “not stop” someone from making an asylum or credible fear claim.
“If they cross between the ports of entry, they are violating US immigration law, so they will be placed under arrest, but that still will not stop them from making an asylum or credible fear claim.” Karisch said. “But in effecting an entry into the country between the ports of entry, they are in violation of the law and they will be arrested.”
The Trump administration also recently attempted to expand its policy of returning some asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings, but a federal judge in California on Monday blocked the policy. Trump has derided the asylum program as “a scam.”
Rosen then asked what concerns they have in implementing Trump administration policies.
“We’ve taken an oath of office to defend this country,” Karisch said. “Our officers every day go out there and perform a job. It doesn’t stop them from addressing the asylum, the credible fear, the different things that they have.”
Karisch argued that the Border Patrol officers do their jobs “as humanly as we possibly can, but understanding is that we do have laws in this country, people have to abide by those laws.”
“So you’re saying, if someone presents themselves for asylum, you will take them in regardless of what the President has instructed you to do?” Rosen asked.
“If they enter the United States between the ports of entry, they will be apprehended. That will not stop them from making an asylum claim,” Karisch reiterated.