Remain-in-Mexico: Not Safe  for Asylum Seekers


Roberto Escalona Moreno, a Cuban asylum seeker, remains stranded in Mexico by the Trump administration’s Remain-In-Mexico policy, which allows asylum seekers to cross the border only for immigration court hearings and then escorts them back. Moreno says he has witnessed a double murder near his hostel and has been assaulted and  friends have been shaken down by Mexican police. “It’s not safe here,” he says. Abel Olmedo, another Cuban asylum-seeker, “said he witnessed a shooting in Downtown Juarez and was nearly grazed by a stray bullet.

Joseph Palma, who came with his family from Honduras, said that while he and his  wife and three children waited in Juarez, they “had survived two kidnapping attempts, sleepless nights and hunger.” 

Most asylum seekers wait at the border for months before they are allowed to approach U.S. officials and ask for asylum, because of a policy known as “metering.” Metering severely limits the number of asylum seekers who will be processed at checkpoints each day. 

Many, unwilling or unable to wait, try to cross between checkpoints. Oscar and Valeria  Martinez, the father and daughter who drowned last week in the Rio Grande, were trying this route. Like them,  unnamed, and often uncounted others, die in the river or in deserts  

The Remain-In-Mexico policy sounds illegal, and probably is, but so far U.S. courts have allowed it to remain in place as legal challenges proceed. Safety of asylum seekers in Mexico is one problem. Another is the Mexican detention centers  for migrants: 

“Reuters spoke to more than a dozen recent detainees at the Siglo XXI detention center, the country’s largest. They described being held in the facility in Chiapas state on Mexico’s southern border for long periods without information about their cases. 

“The detainees reported severe overcrowding, sparse water and food, and limited healthcare….

‘All the people spoken to for this story said detainees slept on thin mattresses or none at all in corridors and bathrooms because of lack of space in cells. 

“All the people spoken to for this story said detainees slept on thin mattresses or none at all in corridors and bathrooms because of lack of space in cells. 

“Inmates said children older than 13 years were separated from parents and lights were kept on all night, disrupting sleep – claims supported by a May 31 report from the migrant aid collective and the migration rights ombudsman. 

“They also told Reuters about unsanitary conditions that led to mass outbreaks of diarrhea among child detainees.” 

While Mexican authorities promise shelter and protection, they have been unable to deliver. Now they hope to provide temporary work permits, though it’s hard to know how many people will actually receive these or how long it will take:  

“This will ease the burden of migrants who are returned to Mexico with little money and lots of needs. Many don’t have a place to sleep and face waits of 12 to 18 months, yet they have to survive here somehow,” said Enrique Valenzuela, director of the State Population Council (COESPO) in Juarez.”

Mexico is in a tough spot. Trump insists that he will impose punitive tariffs if Mexico does not meet his terms—which have not been spelled out. 

“We’re beginning to understand something that it took me a while to fully grasp,” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said last week, in Mexico City. “Today, the government of the United States thinks that there shouldn’t be any migrants who arrive [in the U.S.] at all. That is their position.”

The demand that Mexico stop migrants before they reach the border is only one of the punitive policies keeping immigrants, including asylum-seekers, south of the border, in clear violation of U.S. asylum laws and international human rights protections:

“Last month, some hundred and forty thousand migrants were apprehended at the U.S. border, the vast majority of them seeking asylum. By law, they must be allowed to make their claims to American immigration agents, but the Trump Administration has already designed a raft of measures to bar their entry. Through a policy called “metering,” it has restricted the number of asylum seekers admitted each day at official ports of entry, creating a bottleneck in northern Mexico. Last December, the Department of Homeland Security instituted the Remain in Mexico plan—known officially as the Migrant Protection Protocols—which forced asylum seekers to wait indefinitely in Mexico while their cases moved through the backlogged U.S. immigration courts. To date, some ten thousand asylum seekers have been forcibly returned to Mexico under this arrangement, and Mexican authorities expect the number to grow to more than a hundred thousand by the end of the year.” 

Even U.S. asylum officers, who are employees of the Department of Homeland Security, have protested, saying that the Remain-in-Mexico program is threatening migrants lives and is “fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our Nation.” Their union last week filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit challenging the Remain-in-Mexico program

One of the next strategies is declaring Mexico and Guatemala “safe third countries,” which would mean that asylum seekers could be required to remain there. That’s utterly preposterous, as the chairs of the House Judiciary Committee, the House Homeland Security Committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, insisted in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of DHS. The president cannot legally negotiate “safe third country” agreements with Mexico and Guatemala:

“The President does not have independent constitutional authority to negotiate and conclude such agreements. Rather, that authority must flow from–and be exercised in compliance with–a statute passed by Congress. Because Mexico and Guatemala do not meet the requirements for safe third country agreements under the Immigraiton and Nationality Act (INA), the President lacks the legal authority to proceed with these negotiations….

“The INA also requires that safe third countries be nations ‘in which the alien’s life or freedom would not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.’ The State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report on Guatemala and Mexico make it clear that Guatemala and Mexico do not meet these standards.” 

On Sunday afternoon, Minneapolis saw an outpouring of outrage against the Trump policies that keep asylum seekers in danger and put children and parents in squalid, overcrowded, inhumane detention camps.

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We need to continue to. call Congress, write letters, talk to our families and friends, march, protests—do whatever is necessary to stop this travesty and restore both compassion and the rule of law  in the United States.

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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