Trump Administration Tries to Keep Asylum Seekers in Mexico

When Border Patrol fired tear gas on migrants on the Mexico side of the U.S.-Mexico border Sunday, it was one of the more extreme measures the Trump Administration has undertaken to deter migrants from Central America from seeking asylum in America. Another effort received a setback earlier this week, while another is under consideration. 

Recently, we wrote about Trump's executive order that would not allow migrants to apply for asylum except at ports of entry. Last week, Judge Jon Tigar issued a restraining order against that executive order because it imposes a condition in opposition to the law passed by Congress that explicitly allows them apply from points other than ports of entry.  

However, The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) internal documents reveal plans for a new policy titled “Remain in Mexico,” changes the question for asylum seekers from Central America and asks them not if they have “reasonable fear” of persecution in their home country, but if they have reasonable fear of persecution in Mexico. If they can’t demonstrate that they do, they will be denied entry into the United States. 

The effort is an attempt to deal with what Trump refers to as “catch and release”—a situation in which asylum seekers establish that they have a reasonable fear of persecution in their home country and are allowed into the United States, then because of the backlog of cases waiting hearings, they’re released. Trump and critics of this contend that this is the last that the U.S. government sees of these people, despite evidence to the contrary. 

Trump has been bothered that migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador seek asylum in the United States and not Mexico, which is closer to their homes. Because they bypass Mexico, he sees their asylum claims as efforts to scam their way into the country. A big question at the moment is how the Mexican government will respond to this plan. At the moment, Mexican law does not permit those seeking asylum in another country to remain there. 

According to DHS, there are no plans to implement “Remain in Mexico” at this time. “The President has made clear—every single legal option is on the table to secure our nation and to deal with the flood of illegal immigrants at our borders,” spokesperson Katie Waldman said. 

“DHS is not implementing such a new enforcement program this week. Reporting on policies that do not exist creates uncertainty and confusion along our borders and has a negative real world impact. We will ensure—as always—that any new program or policy will comply with humanitarian obligations, uphold our national security and sovereignty, and is implemented with notice to the public and well coordinated with partners.”

The efforts to reduce the number of migrants trying to enter the United States from Mexico has produced dangerous situations on the Mexican side of the border. The process has become slower, so much so that asylum seekers are now staying in a sports complex in Tijuana as they await processing, and temporary shelters are being set up to accommodate the numbers that keep coming. Migrants waiting in Matamoros for a chance to cross the bridge to Brownsville, Texas say that Mexican guards are demanding bribes to allow people to move up the list of who’ll be allowed to cross each day. In Tijuana, the wait can be four to five weeks right now. 

On Tuesday, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) published a report that asylum seekers have been turned away no matter where they cross the border. The government has contended since the summer that this wasn’t happening, and that if asylum seekers followed the rules and applied for asylum at ports of entry, they would be processed. At the time, there were numerous witnesses and accounts to the contrary, and POGO’s report, based on an investigation of court documents, government reports, statistics and interviews, contends that the slowdowns and denials were deliberate. 

“The evidence shows that the increasing wait times at ports of entry are not a function of a sudden surge of migrants, but of deliberate policy decisions by the Trump Administration to detain as many asylum seekers as possible for as long as possible,” it says.

“The cumulative impact of the administration’s policies and practices is to leave migrants fleeing extreme violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—including a large and growing number of families with young children—trapped in vulnerable situations on the Mexican side of the border, where crime and corruption are rife.”

At this point, the best thing that those who are concerned can do is make people aware of what is happening. The outrage that followed the family separations played a large role in forcing changes to “zero tolerance” and the treatment of children. It's also important to call the situation what it is--a humanitarian crisis, something that was a nonpartisan issue until recently.  

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