Suicide on the Border

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We do not know what drove him from his home to the border, seeking asylum and safety in the United States. We do not know if he was pursued by gangs or drug cartels. We do not know whether he sought help from Mexican police or not. We do not even know his name. 

What we do know is that U.S. officials would not even listen to his story. They would not allow him to ask for asylum or to plead his case before a judge. They turned him back on the bridge between Reynosa, Mexico and Pharr, Texas. That’s when he took his knife and cut his own throat and died, right there on the border on Wednesday afternoon. 

Reporting on the asylum seeker’s suicide, Reuters notes

“Many Mexicans who seek refuge in the United States say their lives are at risk at home from violent criminal gangs, which have made parts of the country increasingly perilous. Homicides have reached record levels in Mexico during the last two years.”

The unnamed Mexican asylum seeker’s suicide comes less than three months after 43-year-old Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, a Cuban asylum seeker, killed himself in a U.S. immigration prison. 

Hernandez-Diaz had passed the first hurdles in the difficult and lengthy process of applying for asylum. In June 2019, he convinced an asylum officer that he had “credible fear” of returning to Cuba

“Hernandez’s wife said she last spoke to him after an immigration court hearing on Oct. 9, and he told her that the judge had asked him to find more evidence of the persecution he faced in Cuba — something he had trouble doing from a detention center in Louisiana.”

When he went on a hunger strike to protest abusive conditions during his five months in ICE custody, he was put in solitary confinement as punishment. That’s when he killed himself. 

This is not how asylum is supposed to work. 

This is not how the United States is supposed to work. 

The Trump administration has imposed restriction after restriction on the asylum process. (And on refugees. And on family reunification. And on labor certification. And on citizenship. And on and on and on.)

Among the most recent restrictions:

  • Metering at the border severely restricts the number of people allowed to ask for asylum. That leaves tens of thousands waiting in Mexico. Many come from Central America, but some come from Mexico, and some from as far away as Russia and China and Nigeria. They wait for months, not knowing when or whether they will be allowed to approach the U.S. officials and ask for asylum. That’s the policy that turned away the Mexican asylum seeker. 
  • The Remain in Mexico policy sends asylum seekers back to Mexico AFTER they have shown credible fear of returning to their own countries. U.S. policy requires them to remain in Mexico for months between court hearings—despite the criminals who target waiting asylum seekers there, despite lack of housing that leaves many sleeping on cold sidewalks. Some asylum seekers are bused as much as 300 miles away from the court that they must return to for a hearing. 
  • Indefinite detention for asylum seekers is Trump administration policy, despite court orders saying this is not legal. That’s why Roylan Hernandez-Diaz was held in immigration prison for five months, until he killed himself. 
  • Just Say NO—The administration has said it will not allow anyone to apply for asylum if they have passed through a third country on their way to the United States or if they have crossed other than at a port of entry—both denials clearly in violation of U.S. asylum law. The administration has begun shipping asylum seekers to Guatemala, rather than allowing them to apply in the United States, and now says it will send others to Honduras. 
  • A proposed regulation will double the waiting time for employment authorization for asylum seekers who have made it into the United States and are waiting for their cases to be completed—a process that can take years. 
  • Another proposed regulation will bar anyone convicted of a crime in the United States (even DUI) from being granted asylum, and will even bar some people who are accused but not convicted. This regulation will strip all discretion from immigration judges so that they cannot evaluate cases on their merits. 

What You Can Do

File a comment. The two proposed regulations cannot be implemented until after a public comment period, and after the comments are considered by the Department of Homeland Security. One concrete action you can take: file a comment. The deadline for comment on the proposed regulation on criminal convictions is January 21. 

Call Congress. Tell your Congress members that asylum seekers and refugees must be protected. Tell them that you know they have many priorities, but this must be a high priority and they must pay attention and take action.

 

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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