The ironically titled Migrant Protection Protocols, which actually strip most protection from asylum seekers, say that they must “Remain in Mexico” while their cases are pending in the United States. After the first few weeks of utter confusion and failure as the policies were implemented in Tijuana, the Trump administration has extended their application to El Paso and beyond. If you are confused about how the new non-entry, non-asylum policy works, you are not alone. Vox has just updated their explainer, and it goes through just about every question you could have.
What the policy says and what actually happens are two different things. CNN reported on hearings last week:
“Attorneys posed questions about where and how asylum seekers should submit their biometric information, which is necessary before their merits hearing, given that they’re waiting in another country. There were questions about where notification of a court date should be sent since no fixed address is provided for the asylum seekers. And asylum seekers expressed fear of returning to Mexico.
“I don’t want to return to Mexico, your honor,” an asylum seeker pleaded.
“The flurry of questions posed by all parties signaled the weight of the issue.
“Getting this right is a matter of life or death,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, an immigration attorney based in Los Angeles who’s representing two asylum seekers.
“It seems like a very chaotic situation,” said Robyn Barnard, an attorney representing two asylum seekers from Honduras. “Every time I had a question for chief counsel it was either met with ‘we don’t know’ or just silence.”
The policy says migrants who are afraid of going back to Mexico are supposed to get interviews with asylum officers who work for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. That’s not happening:
“The majority of those who spoke with the Union-Tribune after they had been returned under the program said they were afraid to be in Mexico, but few had been referred for the additional screening to determine whether they should be part of the program.
“Juan Carlos, a Salvadoran man who came to the port of entry with his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is 10 months old, said that when he told the CBP official that he and his family were afraid to return to Mexico, the official asked how long they’d been there already. Juan Carlos responded three months.
“He said, ‘Well, they haven’t done anything to you yet,’” Juan Carlos recalled in Spanish….
“He was never given the opportunity to talk to an asylum officer about his fears.
“We’re human beings,” Juan Carlos said. “No one wants to die, not an American, not a Salvadoran, not a Nicaraguan. We’re looking for protection, for help.”
The number of migrants crossing the border is increasing, in part because that’s what happens every year as spring brings warmer weather. Numbers typically increase from March through May, and then decrease as summer’s heat makes travel more difficult.
This year’s increased number of migrant families is different from past years’ migrant flows. Children make up 35 percent of the migrants taken into U.S. custody from October through February, and the government doesn’t have a clue about what to do with them.
“Byron Xol was riding in a van, his Pokémon figurines in tow, heading to his fifth home in 10 months. The 9-year-old Guatemalan, separated from his father last year at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” crackdown, had been stuck in a cycle of moving from place to place in Texas while federal authorities tried to find him a place to live until he could be reunited with his family.
“But before the van could reach San Antonio, a federal judge issued an emergency order last week blocking the government from taking him anywhere. U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr. ordered Byron returned to his previous shelter, citing a child psychiatrist who said moving the boy again could amount to “yet another damaging, frightening and discouraging trauma.”
Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, wrote in the Washington Post:
“The whole approach the U.S. government takes at the border is geared to yesterday’s problem: Our border security system was designed to keep single, young Mexican men from crossing into the United States to work. Every day, more evidence mounts that it’s not set up to deal with the families and unaccompanied children now arriving from Central America — in search not just of jobs, but also of refuge. The mismatch is creating intolerable humanitarian conditions and undermining the effectiveness of border enforcement.”