Turning Away Refugees


In a strongly worded letter directed to U.S. government officials, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said that the new “Remain in Mexico” policy violates both U.S. and international laws protecting refugees and asylum seekers:

“I would like to bring to your attention my concerns regarding the “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially named the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), as published on 24 January 2019, that aim at responding to an alleged security crisis at the U.S.’ southern border. The MPP establishes that migrants entering or seeking admission to the United States from Mexico, including those seeking asylum or other forms of human rights protection, are handed a “Notice to Appear” and may be returned to Mexico while awaiting their immigration proceedings. Based on my observations and information received, I am concerned that the practical implications of this policy amount to collective expulsion, work to undermine due process guarantees, and may lead to refoulement, breaching both U.S. and international law….

“I would like to remind your Excellency’s Government that human rights apply to everyone, including all migrants notwithstanding their nationality, age, gender, migratory status, or other attribute.”

Lidia is one of the migrants seeking asylum and stranded in Tijuana. Six months pregnant, she fled Honduras in October with her husband and their two-year-old and four-year-old children. Because of U.S. “metering” that has drastically slowed processing for asylum seekers, they must wait, probably for months, until their name comes up on the list to talk to a U.S. official. Then they may be sent back to Tijuana, under the “Remain in Mexico” policy, to wait for immigration courts to schedule a hearing.

“Lidia’s father, brother and cousins were killed by gang members and her own life was threatened.

“Almost all of my family has been killed,” she said in Spanish….

“[In Tijuana,] her daughters, Estefanni, 4, and Katherin, 2, were later hospitalized with breathing problems and had to be treated with nebulizers for asthma. Lidia, who is due to give birth in April, said she sometimes feels “very sick” and still suffers from headaches.

“The new shelter, called Movimiento Juventud 2000, consisted of an open-air gated area with a roof overhead, which let in cold wind and left Lidia feeling exposed.

“I can hardly sleep because I think someone is going to get in from above, the people who are looking for us,” Lidia said in January. “That is my fear of being here. The truth is, I don’t want to be here anymore.”

In addition to the long wait in one of the world’s most dangerous cities, Lidia will have limited access to immigration attorneys. A Washington Post article outlines some of the problems:

“For immigration attorneys, it can be difficult to extend help to people who are on the other side of the border.

“The American Bar Association’s Immigration Justice Project of San Diego cannot afford to go to Tijuana and will not pursue grants without insurance and license to practice in Mexico, said Adela Mason, the group’s director.

“Catholic Charities of the San Diego Diocese had to overcome worries about safety and not having license.

“It’s a fine line between going down there and providing assistance in a way that is legal but not practicing law in Mexico,” said Nadine Toppozada, the group’s director of refugee and immigrant services.”

In addition to the logistical problems, immigration attorneys trying to help migrants face hassles from the U.S. government. A few weeks ago, NBC research turned up a list of attorneys, activists, and journalists targeted for additional questioning at the border, and sometimes refused entry. Now four more attorneys, not on that list, have also reported border barriers:

“Ruiz, a staff attorney with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, says he was stopped one night in mid-December, after returning on foot from dinner with friends in Juarez, Mexico. Several agents who he says told him they specialize in criminal and terrorism cases asked him specific questions about his job and his political beliefs.

“They asked me what my opinion was on the administration, just generally. And how we are doing economically,” Ruiz said.

“I was treated like a criminal, people were shouting at me,” he added. After four hours at the station, he says he finally agreed to unlock his phone and watched as they scrolled through his contacts. He worries about the information they might have gleaned about the clients he works with.”


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, www.tcdailyplanet.net, 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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