Asylum Seekers: From Frying Pan into the Fire


Asylum seekers fleeing violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have left violence and governments that either refuse to protect them or actively persecute them. At the border, they encounter U.S. government officials: who either refuse to protect them or ship them back to the violence they have fled. Leaving a bad situation, they find worse: out of the frying pan and into the fire.  

As thousands of asylum seeking families arrived at the border, U.S. officials decided to interview only a few dozen each day, a process sometimes called metering. The rest wait, in some of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. Even those few allowed to make their pleas to U.S. officials are now being told to wait in Mexico, for years, until an immigration judge can hear their cases. 

Asylum seekers waiting in Mexico have little to no opportunity to get legal assistance:

“In January, Mexican officials, apparently acting under pressure from the U.S., denied entry to two U.S. attorneys who provided legal advice to asylum-seekers, and also refused entry to several journalists who had photographed the large migrant caravan that arrived in Tijuana in November.

“Mexican federal immigration authorities recently arrested and deported several people who had been helping coordinate migrant caravans as they passed through Mexico on their way toward the U.S.

“On Feb. 15, videos posted on social media showed police shoving and punching migrants outside a shelter in Mexico City. In denouncing the incident, human-rights groups called the incident part of a growing “pattern of harassment” by various levels of the government against “human rights defenders” and migrants seeking to organize themselves.”

Even worse, Mexico is no safe haven for asylum seekers told to wait there:

“The murders of the two teenagers in Tijuana cast into stark relief the dangers that migrants and refugees — especially unaccompanied minors — may face while stranded at the border. Artificially slow processing times at official points of entry, justified by highly questionable claims of maxed-out capacity, extend wait times and compound the risks.

“Tijuana is one of the most dangerous cities in the world for anyone. Putting children there, unaccompanied, without their families and their parents, puts them in serious danger,” said Kara Lynum, an immigration lawyer who visited Tijuana late last year and camped out with a group of Hondurans to pressure border officials to allow asylum-seekers, including eight unaccompanied minors, to pass.”

Some asylum seekers are suing the U.S. government to overturn this “Remain in Mexico” policy.

“Asylum seekers, the organizations said in court documents, “are being returned to Mexico without any meaningful consideration of the dangers they face there, including the very real threat that Mexican authorities will return them to the countries they fled to escape persecution and torture.”

“Eleven migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States and were returned to Mexico under the policy are also plaintiffs in the case.

“Those migrants have already suffered attacks and threats in Mexico and shouldn’t be sent back there, according to a memo their attorneys filed in court Wednesday.”

In the meantime, asylum seekers continue to arrive at the border. One large group that came to a remote border location near Eagle Pass, Texas has been sent away by Mexican officials:

“As of Tuesday, the shelter was closing, with all but one group of migrant family members sent to other, larger border cities, where prospects of entering the United States were little better.

“The last 18 migrants would be allowed to seek asylum at the border bridge to Texas, officials said. Speaking through the shelter fence Tuesday, some said they had proof, including photos, that they were fleeing persecution. It wasn’t clear why they were chosen, while others were not allowed to reach the city’s two border bridges across the Rio Grande. But a Honduran official said the overall group of 1,800 was simply too large for U.S. officials to process there….

“I don’t want to leave,” Merlin Linares Rodriguez, 23, said late Monday.

“The Salvadoran single mother was traveling with son Jose Garcia Linares, 7, to join a friend in San Francisco.

“We tried to do it legally. They just tell us it’s not allowed,” she said, and began to cry as she sat by the side of the road opposite the shelter, hoping for a ride to the river where she would try to cross illegally.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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