On both the northern and southern international borders of Mexico a human rights disaster is evolving in large part due to the Trump administration’s war on asylum seekers from Central America. On the northern border with the United States, the U.S. “migrant protection protocols” are forcing tens of thousands of people to wait in Mexico border towns for a chance to make asylum claims before a U.S. immigration judge. On the southern border with Guatemala, migrants are being denied the ability to cross through Mexico. New regulations regarding the issuance of travel documents have particularly impacted migrants from Africa and Haiti. Between the two borders, the journey remains deadly - as enforcement measures push migrants even further into the shadowy world of coyotes and gangs in order to get across the country.
Below we highlight a few stories from the last week that make clear the crisis.
Remain in Mexico is a policy designed to fail
A year ago Trump lost his mind over a caravan of refugees making their way to the U.S. border with Mexico, many hoping to seek asylum in the U.S. Since then, his administration has sought every mechanism it can to block asylum seekers from even making it to the U.S. border - and for those that do make it, this administration has sought to make it nearly impossible for them to enter the U.S.
One of the mechanisms employed is the Migration Protection Protocol - or the “remain in Mexico” policy. Under this policy people register their intent to seek asylum with immigration authorities but are forced to wait in Mexico until they can see a judge. There are an estimated 40,000 MPP cases - people waiting in Mexican border towns, many under threat of criminal gangs and all living with a general insecurity as they face an unknown future. The Latin America Working Group has extensive background materials on the policy and its impact.
Over the last month asylum trials have gotten underway. The process is a mockery of justice. Proceedings are held in tents, with immigration judges video conferenced in. The Department of Homeland Security oversees the trials, which is outside of their jurisdiction. This week a group of volunteer attorneys attempting to represent people in these proceedings published their experiences in The Hill, noting that the whole enterprise is designed to fail.
At every step of the way, refugees and the handful of attorneys who represent them are reminded that this “system” is designed to fail. There are no marked entrances to the Brownsville court, which resembles a concentration camp in its design and layout.
Instead, attorneys must already know where the entrance is and ask to be let in by privately contracted guards who monitor it for DHS. Forms with client signatures are required to gain entry. Attorneys are escorted by guards from the front gate to client meetings, to attend court and even to access the restroom.
Attorneys are not allowed to bring electronics into the tent complex, which means they cannot access their calendars or legal research. Meanwhile, DHS lawyers maintain access to their technology as they sit off-screen. Only the immigration judge and interpreter are video streamed into the port courtroom.
In order to even schedule the next hearing, the attorney must request a recess so that they can leave the court complex, go to their car to access their calendar on their phone and go through the security process all over again to get back to their hearing.
The authors conclude:
The harms refugees suffer due to our official U.S. government policy of rendering them homeless includes deaths by drowning in the Rio Grande (even while bathing), multiple documented instances of kidnappings within minutes or hours of being returned from the U.S. The toll of surviving on the streets of Mexico is amplified by the due process farce refugees face in post courts.
As tempting as it is, we cannot give in to our exhaustion and cynicism: We must hold this administration accountable for the ongoing illegality that is engulfing the border. It may take decades or longer to repair what we have lost under this administration and there is no time to waste. (emphasis added)
Blocking passage on southern border
As Mexico has escalated its crackdown on immigration under pressure from the United States, new regulations are leaving African and Haitian immigrants at the Mexico/Guatemala with no place to go. Central American migrants who are caught up in the expanded dragnet in southern Mexico are typically repatriated quickly - Mexico has departed far more Central Americans than the United States in recent years. People from Africa and the Caribbean are not as easily repatriated. As noted in The Guardian, until recently, migrants from Africa would be issued temporary 21-day visas in order to sort out their status or leave the country. In many cases they gave people time to cross the country to seek entry to the United States. Now, these temporary visas require people to leave from the southern border - effectively denying them the ability to seek asylum in the United States.
Migrants are particularly angered by the perception that they are being coerced into applying for asylum in Mexico – where few feel safe and almost none want to stay. “Mexico is playing games with us,” said a 36-year-old engineer from Eritrea who identified himself as Mr Testahiwet. “This is the way to get to America and we want to go to America. Mexico is the wrong place to ask for asylum.”
This weekend a caravan of hundreds of people attempted to make the journey north anyway, and were halted. From ABC News:
Hundreds of migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Central America found themselves corralled in a migrant detention facility in southern Mexico on Sunday after a futile attempt to head north as part of a caravan aiming to reach the United States.
The group set out before sunrise Saturday from the town of Tapachula, where many had been marooned for months unsuccessfully trying to get transit visas. They carried heavy backpacks, babies and parcels on their heads.
Just before dusk, after having trudged more than 20 miles north, they were surrounded by hundreds of National Guard agents and police who persuaded the exhausted migrants to board vans back to Tapachula. Children cried, and women complained angrily about waiting months for papers. It was unclear if any would be deported.
For migrants fleeing violence there are fewer and fewer places to go - and too many are trapped waiting.
Migrants from conflict-wracked African countries set their sights on the Americas after doors began to shut in Europe. A typical journey from Africa involves a flight to Brazil, which has been amenable to granting visas, followed by a long and perilous trip north. The worst patch, many African migrants say, is the trek through Panama's Darien Gap, a dense tropical forest inhabited by venomous snakes and ruthless robbers.
Now, southern Mexico has become a frustrating waystation for thousands of Africans, most of whom would prefer to start anew in the U.S. or Canada because of language and cultural barriers in Mexico.
"These are individuals that have gone through numerous horrors both in their home countries and then on their journey," said Meyer.
Most of the Haitians arriving at Mexico's southern border, meanwhile, have lived in South America for several years after some nations granted them protected immigration status. Now such policies are less favorable, propelling the Haitians to seek a new home at a time when their country is mired in an intense political crisis. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Mexico has offered refugees the possibility of obtaining work and residency permits to stay in southern Mexico, far from the U.S. border. But those asylum permits are slow-coming in an overstretched immigration system. Also, southern Mexico is the country's poorest region, so job opportunities there are scarce.
Mexico has gone along with U.S. immigrant enforcement policy for a long time. Trump, however, has clearly upped the ante for Mexico with the predictable result that conditions for migrants at Mexico’s borders, north and south, are deteriorating rapidly. Mexico is facing two border crises - both of them the result of U.S. policies targeting people seeking asylum.