(Washington, DC) – The United States government’s year-old program requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard puts families at serious risk of harm and undermines due process protections, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing a “question and answer” analysis.
On January 29, 2019, US officials began returns of non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexican border towns for their claims to be adjudicated in US immigration courts under the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” also known as “Remain in Mexico.”
“For a year the Trump administration’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ program has deprived asylum seekers of basic due process rights and endangered them in Mexican border cities,” said Thomas Rachko, Jr., acting US advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch. “This program is the cornerstone of the administration’s efforts to eviscerate the right to seek asylum in the United States, and its consequences have been appalling.”
As of December 2019, over 59,000 asylum seekers, including 16,000 children (about 500 of whom were under 12 months old), have been sent back to wait in Mexico. The advocacy group Human Rights First has tallied more than 816 cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, assault, and other attacks on asylum seekers in the program, including instances documented by Human Rights Watch.
Asylum seekers in Migrant Protection Protocols face significant barriers to seeking asylum, including a lack of access to counsel and barriers to legal representation. According to government data, only 4 percent of asylum seekers in the program succeed in being represented by an attorney. Less than 1 percent have been granted protection in the United States.
“The US Congress should immediately end the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” Rachko said. “The US government needs to pass legislation that respects the human dignity of asylum seekers and ensures that they receive fair and timely decisions on their claims free from harm in Mexico.”