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US Should Cease Returning Asylum Seekers to Mexico

Trump Administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program Denies Rights to Asylum Seekers

Migrants seeking asylum wait in line with their case paperwork on October 5, 2019, during a weekly trip by volunteers, lawyers, paralegals and interpreters to the migrant campsite outside El Puente Nuevo in Matamoros, Mexico. © 2019 Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP

At a November 19 US House of Representatives hearing on the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico” program, Michael Knowles, head of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officer union, testified that asylum officers told him adjudicating cases under this program leaves them “feeling like they are complicit in human rights abuses.”

Since its start in January, Remain in Mexico has forced 55,000 asylum seekers, including 16,000 children, to wait in Mexico as their asylum claims grind through prolonged US immigration procedures.

In a July 2019 report on tellingly entitled “We Can’t Help You Here,” Human Rights Watch documented the impact of Remain in Mexico on the lives of asylum seekers like Kimberlyn, a 23-year-old Honduran mother who, along with her 5-year-old daughter, had been kidnapped and held for ransom after they were returned to Ciudad Juárez in April 2019.

So much for “protection” in these protocols.

In testimony submitted to the hearing, Human Rights Watch said Remain in Mexico undermines due process by increasing barriers to legal representation, making it far more difficult for asylum applicants to sustain themselves – let alone stay safe – while their claims are pending. We also highlighted the significant challenges for persons with disabilities for whom Remain in Mexico makes basic services less accessible.

Congress should clarify that its intent in enacting the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was not to return asylum seekers in the expedited removal process to a foreign territory and that its intent in enacting the Refugee Act of 1980 was to allow any person regardless of status to seek and pursue their right to asylum on US territory. It should prohibit the use of government funds to continue the “Remain in Mexico” program.

Even if it takes that step, Congress’s job will hardly be done; on the same day as the hearing, the Trump administration published a new regulation to pave the way for returning asylum seekers who passed through El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala not just to “remain” in those countries while their claims are pending in US immigration courts, but to have their asylum claims adjudicated in the very countries that are themselves producing many of the people fleeing for their lives. 

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