November 18, 2019

Former Asylum Officer Blows Whistle on Harm to Immigrants Under MPP

Government Accountability Project Client Goes Public With Concerns 

WASHINGTON – This week, former U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) asylum officer Douglas Stephens first spoke publicly about his decision to blow the whistle on the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. MPP—also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program—forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico to await their asylum hearings. MPP is being challenged in court for violating numerous laws, including constitutional due process rights, statutes, and treaty obligations. Moreover, thousands of migrants have been forced to wait in Mexico and have suffered crimes including kidnapping, rape, and other violence, which have been widely reported in the press. 

After refusing to conduct asylum interviews under MPP, Stephens faced retaliation from his superiors. Exercising his whistleblower rights as a federal employee, Stephens wrote a seven-point memo articulating why he believes conducting interviews under MPP violates numerous laws and poses a significant threat of harm to asylum seekers. 

Aware of the potential for further retaliation, Stephens sought aid from the Asylum Officers’ designated spokesperson and union president, Michael Knowles, and went to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) to disclose his concerns that implementing MPP would violate the law and endanger migrants. His disclosures became an integral part of a report issued by Senator Merkley on November 14, 2019, “Shattered Refuge: A U.S. Senate Investigation into the Trump Administration’s Gutting of Asylum.” 

Following the publication of the report, Stephens went on the record with the Los Angeles Times and This American Life to call attention to harms posed by MPP, noting in his interviews, “‘You’re literally sending people back to be raped and killed…[t]hat’s what this is.’”

Stephens will be submitting written testimony in support of the November 19, 2019 House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing, “Examining the Human Rights and Legal Implications of DHS’ ‘Remain in Mexico’ Policy.” Government Accountability Project will also be representing Mr. Michael Knowles for his testimony at the upcoming hearing.  

Of his disclosures, Stephens said, 

“I am gratified that Congress is conducting investigations into the illegality and humanitarian consequences of the MPP program. While I am no longer working for USCIS, I fully support current asylum officers committed to civil service who are in the untenable situation of having to implement a program that is illegal and dangerous. Congress must stop the harm caused by this cruel and inhumane policy.”

Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and attorney for Stephens, Dana Gold, said, 

“Whistleblowers – dedicated professionals and experts in their fields – have been sounding the alarm internally and externally to those in positions of power who have a responsibility to uphold the law and prevent harm. This administration has repeatedly ignored the warnings of its own experts, instead choosing to flagrantly violate the law to deter migration at the southern border, no matter the cost. Doug and other whistleblowers play a critical role in prompting accountability for the inhuman practices executed under the zero-tolerance policy.”

Mr. Stephens is currently available to speak to media; reporters should contact his attorney, Dana Gold. 

Contact: Dana Gold, Senior Counsel and Director of Education
Phone: (202) 457-0034 x160

Government Accountability Project

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.