After traveling from their home country of El Salvador to the southern border of the United States in hopes of seeking asylum, a family of four was forced to stay in Tijuana, Mexico before they could appeal in local immigration court.
Throughout their seven-month stay in Tijuana in deteriorating conditions, they told numerous United States officials that they did not feel safe in this city, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world. They were, nevertheless, told to remain in the region until their court appeal date- set for over seven months after their arrival.
In November, the 35-year old husband and father of the family was killed in Zona Norte, Tijuana, a town riddled by prostitution. Stab wounds and cuts across his person indicate possible torture, The Los Angeles Times reports.
It was only after the man’s wife ran to the border and reported her husband’s murder to immigration officials, her two young children at her side, that they were allowed to enter the United States. The family’s attorney, Richard Sterger, said “I don’t know how there’s an argument that Mexico is a safe country... my clients begged not to be sent back there.”
The family, like nearly all asylum seekers who arrive at the southern border of the United States, was forced to stay in Mexico until their immigration court date due to a policy initiated by the Trump Administration. Called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP) or “Remain in Mexico,” the program took effect in January of 2019.
Individuals under this program waited anywhere from a few days to a year before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transported them to hearings before local immigration courts. Children, registered criminals, and individuals with dire physical or mental health issues were among the groups exempt from MPP, leading to frequent family separation.
According to the American Immigration Council, at least 70,000 migrants were forced to stay in Mexico during MPP's two-year span. Two years after MPP began, in December 2020, only 42,012 cases were completed and only 638 people were given asylum. As few as 7.5% of individuals subject to this program successfully hired an attorney, compared to 80% of individuals who reside in the United States involved in immigration cases.
Subjects of MPP were placed into seven border towns throughout California, Arizona, and Texas. According to Human Rights First, there were over 1,314 cases of rape, kidnapping, attempting kidnapping, assault, and robbery committed against these subjectsthese subjec. After MPP began, Baja, California police began going to migrant shelters to give presentations on avoiding falling victim to violent crime.
A statement from the Department of Homeland Security reads that under MPP, “Mexico will provide [asylum seekers] with all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.” These safety claims have proven false. Private shelters and housing built by the Mexican government provide minimal protection to prospective immigrants, leaving many homeless or living in tents.
Under MPP, the United States government is violating international human rights “non-refoulement” law under Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol. This law forbids a government from returning asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to face danger based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” The aforementioned family’s case is a perfect example of this violation, Sterger told the Los Angeles Times.
With the outbreak of Coronavirus in March 2020, MPP hearings were suspended temporarily under the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Despite this suspension, the Trump Administration continued placing people into MPP until the end of his term in January 202, totaling around 5,500, the American Immigration Council reports.
Many individuals placed under MPP during the pandemic came from Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, as the United States government could not easily oust them due to public health order. The suspension led many people to abandon their cases, as exemplified by one shelter in Tijuana, which at its peak held 3,000 people but in January 2021 held under 100.
According to the American Immigration Council, hours after his inauguration, Biden ordered that Customs and Border Protection stop placing people into MPP. However, he did not immediately address what should happen to people placed under MPP under the Trump Administration, his order reading, “all current MPP participants should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials.”
Then, on March 5, 2021, he allowed the last inhabitants of Mexico’s Matamoros refugee camp to cross into the United States to request asylum. The exodus of this camp represents the end of Trump’s restrictive and dangerous policy. They, along with the 15,000 other subjects of MPP, will stay in the United States until their court hearings.
However, this change came too late for the 41,247 migrants whose cases were rejected under MPP while they remained in Mexico. It came too late for the thousands who endured homelessness, assault, and family separation. The program, which the Department of Homeland Security claimed would “restore a safe and orderly immigration process,” did little but put prospective asylum seekers in insurmountable danger and over-complicate an already flawed immigration system.