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‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is now a year old

Cuban immigrants gather near the International bridge in Ciudad Juarez waiting for their number to be called. Roberto E. Rosales/Journal

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

CIUDAD JUÃREZ – On the one-year anniversary of the Migrant Protection Protocol, known as “remain in Mexico” and MPP, critics said the policy has endangered thousands of asylum seekers, including children, while the Trump administration said it is an effective tool for deterring smugglers.

“This is a policy which is damaging people’s lives and which is also eroding our country’s historic commitment to asylum so, brick by brick, asylum is crumbling here at the border and we have to stand up to protect it,” said Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute.

The Trump administration has praised Mexico for its role in MPP, and the Department of Homeland Security has said the policy is working.

“The U.S. and Mexican governments 100% support MPP, which is firmly authorized by bipartisan Congressional statute and has allowed the U.S. to provide the opportunity for due process to more than 57,000 migrants,” said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The faith-based, nonprofit Hope Border Institute, which advocates for migrants in the El Paso, Ciudad Juárez, Las Cruces region, was among organizations that issued scathing reports on the impact of the MPP on the anniversary of the policy.

All said that rather than finding protection, migrants were preyed upon in Mexico while waiting for a decision on their asylum cases in U.S. immigration court.

“Many of them fear even leaving their shelters. They don’t know the place, they don’t know the city, so their mobility is compromised,” said Edith Tapia, Hope Border Institute research analyst during a webinar Wednesday detailing the report on MPP.

Nearly 60,000 migrants have been sent to Mexico. About 25% are children. An estimated 20,000 migrants have been returned to Juárez, according to the Hope Border Institute report.

During the past year, migrants in Juárez interviewed by the Journal said extortion and kidnapping for ransom are the biggest threats. Some said they had also been robbed, beaten and threatened.

Others expressed fear of being caught in the crossfire as violence escalates in Juárez and other border cities.

The number of murders in Juárez climbed steadily last year to a total of 1,500. This year, the violence has continued, with 20 murders in 24 hours this past weekend according to local media reports in the city.

A group of Cuban asylum seekers living in a hotel in downtown Juárez said they often heard gunfire in the streets at night.

“We’re desperate because this is not our country and everything is different, and we face a lot of danger,” said Ramon Piñero Alvarez, 67, a carpenter from Cuba. Alvarez and his wife, a nurse, have been in Juárez for 10 months. Their first court appearance is Feb. 12.

He said they had both witnessed and “experienced” crime, but he was reluctant to provide details because he did not feel safe talking about “delicate things.”

The Mexican border states where asylum seekers are waiting for U.S. court dates have active U.S. State Department travel advisories. The state of Tamaulipas, which borders south Texas, has a “level 4” warning status, the same as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

MPP began on the border in California last January and was expanded in March to the El Paso border region, which includes migrants who crossed into New Mexico. During the summer, locations on the border in south Texas were included. This month, the first location on the Arizona border was added.

“DHS is always looking at ways to expand and strengthen the program to include new locations, populations and procedures in order to further enhance protections for migrants, and ensure safe and lawful migration, while deterring smugglers and traffickers,” said Swift.

Of the 17,517 cases assigned to the MPP court near the border in El Paso, about 8,000 were still waiting in Juárez for their first hearing, according to data through December 2019 from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Less than 3% of the applicants had access to legal representation.

Critics calling for the end of MPP argue it “outsources” U.S. immigration policy by sending asylum seekers to Mexico.

“On the one-year anniversary, we have to double down as human rights advocates, as border communities to make sure that the American public doesn’t close their eyes to what’s happening on the border,” said Corbett.