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US Should Focus on Rights Concerns in Tariffs Deal with Mexico

Expansion of Returns, Ramped up Enforcement Risk Driving Abuses

Migrant families cross the Rio Grande to get across the border into the United States, to turn themselves in to authorities and ask for asylum, next to the Paso del Norte international bridge, near El Paso, Texas, Friday, May 31, 2019. © 2019 Christian Torrez/AP Photo © 2019 Christian Torrez / AP Photo

The US Congress should urgently turn its attention to the impact of a new agreement between Mexico and the Trump administration aimed at reducing the number of migrants coming to the United States’ southern border.

The deal, struck after President Trump threatened last month to levy a five percent tariff on Mexico, raises serious human rights concerns.

The two main pillars of the deal are Mexico’s commitment to take “unprecedented” enforcement steps to curb immigration to the US – particularly along its southern border – and the immediate expansion of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), that returns Central American asylum seekers to Mexico while their application to live in the US is considered. Both elements endanger the rights of asylum seekers.

I was in Juarez, Mexico last month assessing the impacts of the returns program – which swept up over 11,000 people, raising serious concerns about their access to fair process in the US. On Tuesday, the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee in the US House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2020 spending bill that would prohibit using US government funds to return asylum-seekers to Mexico. This amendment should be incorporated into the final spending bill to stop the harms of the returns program.

Congress also needs to investigate whether the Trump deal with Mexico is resulting in the expulsion of refugees from Mexico on the US’ behalf. As part of the deal, Mexico will deploy 6,000 National Guard troops to its southern border, a move my colleague Daniel Wilkinson recently called a “recipe for abuse” given Mexico’s record with militarized policing.

Asylum seekers stopped in Mexico, including children, may not have meaningful access to asylum. Human Rights Watch found in 2016 that Central American children in need of protection in the country faced major obstacles, including lack of proper screening and legal assistance, delays, and detention. Mexico has taken important steps to increase its capacity to handle asylum claims, but its refugee agency still lacks the resources to handle more than a fraction of the people with protection claims who cross its borders.

The US-Mexico deal removes people seeking asylum from US soil or makes sure they never reach it, but it does not absolve Congress of its responsibility to address the human rights consequences of the deal.

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