In the past few weeks, the Trump administration has moved to bar refugees and asylum seekers, closing the door on people whose lives depend on finding safe haven. In a cascade of awful, the administration:
- Said it will accept a maximum of 18,000 refugees in the current fiscal year, a historic and reprehensible low;
- Ordered that asylum seekers, for the first time ever, be required to pay a $50 application fee;
- Said that asylum seekers will not be allowed to seek employment for at least the first year that they are present in the United States;
- Greatly expanded the categories of people barred from being granted asylum, including, among many others, anyone with a DUI conviction and people accused of domestic violence, even if they are not convicted;
- Began deporting asylum seekers to Guatemala, one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and a country without a functioning asylum system of its own.
Besides these new moves, the administration continues its metering and Remain-in-Mexico programs. Metering requires asylum seekers at the border to wait for months to make their request, allowing only a few asylum seekers to approach Border Patrol agents each day. Then, once an asylum seeker demonstrates to immigration agents that they have enough of a case to warrant a court hearing, the misnamed Migrant Protection Protocol sends them back to remain in Mexico for more months until a court hearing. What does that mean in practice?
“[José] remembers being on his knees, gagged and blinded with duct tape, his hands tied behind his back. One of his captors struck his left thigh with a bat and scraped his neck with an ax, threatening to cut him.
“His 3-year-old son watched and wailed.
“’Tell the boy to shut up. Make him shut up,’ one of the men barked, ripping the duct tape from his mouth.
“A few hours earlier, the 28-year-old migrant from Honduras, whose name is José, had been walking with his son down a street in Reynosa, Mexico, having been turned back at the border by the United States. Suddenly three men grabbed him, shoved a hood over his head and thrust him and his son into a vehicle….
“There have been 636 documented cases of violent attacks, including abduction and rape, against migrants who were returned to Mexico by United States authorities since the Remain in Mexico policy began in January, with 293 attacks in the last month alone…” [New York Times, 12/21/2019]
After his wife came up with $2000 in ransom, José was released by his captors and made his way to the border, pleading to be allowed into the United States and safety.
“About 40 minutes later, an immigration official told José that they would have to go back to Mexico. He handed him a document that said that José ‘did not establish a clear probability of persecution or torture in Mexico.’
“Recently, José described his ordeal from a migrant shelter in Reynosa. He still had bruises and scrapes on his neck, arms and legs, and said his right arm, the one that received most of the blows from the bat, was still numb.”
José was, at least for the moment, still luckier than the Salvadoran man who was kidnapped, murdered, and dismembered after being sent back to Mexico to wait for his hearing.
An NPR article reports that asylum seekers at the border have little chance of making their case successfully, because the system carefully constructed by this administration stacks the odds against them:
“Out of tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived at the southern border in recent months, just 117 have been granted protection by a judge. That’s according to the latest immigration court data released Thursday by the TRAC Immigration project at Syracuse University….
“Migrants who are forced to wait in Mexico are stressed by the time they’re allowed into the U.S. for court, says Lynn Stopher, a staff attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center. She describes seeing her client at a hearing last week in Laredo, Texas.
“‘She’s had nothing to eat. She’s also exhausted, physically and emotionally,’ Stopher said. ‘And she’s expected to testify about the most traumatic experiences of her life to a video camera.’…
“The second reason it’s so hard to get asylum under Remain in Mexico has to do with judges. The program funnels these asylum cases to some of the toughest judges in the country. Immigration courts near the border grant far fewer asylum claims than other courts, such as San Francisco or New York.
“The third reason, advocates say, is lack of access to legal counsel. Only 4% of migrants in Remain in Mexico have found lawyers, according to the latest court data. Few lawyers are willing to travel to Mexico to take on these cases — and those who are willing say the administration has made it difficult to meet with their clients.”
We must stop this. Here are four steps you can take right now:
- Support organizations that provide direct services to asylum seekers on the border. Nationally, some good places doing good work include RAICES (legal assistance in Texas) and Al Otro Lado, which works on both sides of the border. Also Angry Tias/Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Team Brownsville.
- Make an official comment in opposition to charging a $50 fee to asylum seekers. You can comment against that rule with a simple, one-click procedure through CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network) or Maryknoll.
- Make another official comment in opposition to the requirement that asylum seekers wait a full year before even applying for work authorization.
- Call your Senators and Representative. Put their numbers on your speed dial or reach them through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Join the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) in urging members of Congress to demand public access to the tent courts and defund the dangerous Remain in Mexico program altogether.