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“Remain in Mexico” Must Go: An illegal policy designed to endanger, not protect, migrants

Date: Feb 12, 2019

Author: Lily Folkerts

A new U.S. policy means asylum seekers arriving at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border will be returned to Mexico to wait for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings. The “Migration Protection Protocols” (MPP)—frequently referenced as “Remain in Mexico”—has nothing to do with migrant protections. In fact, it does just the opposite.

Why is everything about the “Migration Protection Protocols” (MPP) aka “Remain in Mexico” illegal?

Remain in Mexico breaks U.S. law by ignoring legislation passed by Congress on the process asylum seekers must undergo at the border, violating asylum seekers’ rights to due process. And it goes against individual’s rights not to be returned to danger, or what is called “the right to non-refoulement,” under international law.

Why is it so dangerous and illogical to return asylum seekers to Mexico?

Two young Hondurans traveling with the migrant exodus were killed in Tijuana last year. And their deaths were just two of over 2,500 in 2018—the highest homicide rate ever registered in the city. Across Mexico’s northern border states, the very areas asylum seekers would be returned to, migrants face high rates of kidnapping, disappearances, extortion, and sexual and gender-based violence at the hands of organized crime and Mexican migration and law enforcement, often acting in collusion. Yet cases lodged for these crimes against migrants are almost never investigated or prosecuted, at 99 percent impunity. Forcing migrants to wait in Mexico would likely increase their exposure to even more of these risks and human rights violations.

Beyond immediate danger, returning asylum seekers to Mexico creates a logistical nightmare. For migrants trying to navigate a foreign legal system in a foreign language, it complicates the already complicated. Remain in Mexico also restricts their access to any legal counsel. Crossing country borders makes it difficult for U.S. asylum lawyers to reach clients in Mexico. Some lawyers have even had their passports flagged and were barred from entering the country. DHS’ solution is a single slip of paper with a 1-800 hotline to call from Mexico that leaves migrants scrambling to learn how to gain legal representation for their cases in the United States from Mexico and figure out other details related to their case.

Besides access to legal counsel, asylum seekers returned to Mexico’s northern border will likely face other challenges in accessing basic services and shelters. Many have been waiting in Tijuana since last year and have already faced these shortages. Northern border shelters lack sufficient resources and are intended for one to three days of temporary shelter, not extended stays to wait on the backlogged U.S. asylum system.

How has the Mexican government responded so far?

The Mexican government cautioned against Remain in Mexico, calling it unilateral and emphasizing their lack of resources to accommodate it. However, they have also stated that, in an effort to support humanitarian need and rights, they will temporarily receive some asylum seekers, excluding unaccompanied children and individuals with health conditions.

Where does Remain in Mexico stand today?

Remain in Mexico was announced in December 2018, and DHS began implementation on January 25, 2019. It is currently only being implemented at the San Ysidro/Tijuana port of entry, but media reports have noted that DHS intends to expand it—without providing specifics. Yet expanding will only further jeopardize the rights and safety of migrants and asylum seekers along other areas of the border.

As of February 5, 23 Central Americans have been returned to Mexico, according to media reports. These reports also confirm the demoralization that occurs with this policy: “I’m disappointed, and I’m worried,” Ariel, a 19-year-old Honduran asylum seeker said. “I can’t be here a year. I don’t want to be here that long … I want to cross legally.” Others migrants that have been returned to wait in Mexico and interviewed echo this sentiment saying that “We came to live in the United States, not Mexico. They are playing with our lives.

Why won’t Remain in Mexico deter migrants from coming to our border?

Simply put, migrants are willing to face risks along the journey because of the danger they’re facing at home. And there’s plenty of evidence that documents the violence, poverty, corruption, impunity, repression, and environmental factors from which they’re fleeing.

Remain in Mexico won’t deter migrants from coming to our border. It deters them from using the safest and legal way to enter the United States. By returning individuals to Mexico to wait for extended periods of time, Remain in Mexico could prompt individuals to cross between ports of entry in more dangerous areas. And it could prompt individuals to turn to smugglers, enabling more smugglers and traffickers to prey on them.

So what should we do instead of Remain in Mexico?

Stop the manufactured crisis at our border. Halt the expansion of Remain in Mexico and end it immediately. Stop other illegal practices like “metering”—which limits the number of asylum cases processed per day and forces individuals to get on a list to wait in limbo in Mexico. And like “turn backs”—where border agents literally turn asylum seekers away, preventing them from making their claims at ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection has been carrying out these injustices long before this most recent policy, and they only add to the build-up at the border and endangers lives.

Decrease funding for border militarization and deportation enforcement. Increase funding for asylum officers to clear the backlog of 800,000 cases.