Migrants and refugees held in an overcrowding centre at a border control checkpoint in Texas in June 2019. Source: flickr.com.
It has been approximately one year since the Trump administration issued the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), otherwise known as the ‘remain in Mexico’ policy. According to the Department of Human Services, the MPP is on track to ‘restore a safe and orderly immigration process’, with the hope that migrants will no longer be exploited by human traffickers. The MPP also sought to reduce the influx of drugs and illicit activity, as well as reduce the number of asylum seekers able to take advantage of US law. Essentially, the MPP is designed to both dispel migrants from seeking out illegal and dangerous means of crossing the border, and a way to more directly determine who is allowed to stay in the United States permanently.
The MPP however, functions less as a deterrent and more as a means of rejection. Upon crossing the border, it is determined whether the migrant will be placed within the MPP. Those placed in the program are given a court date, and are then sent back across the border to a designated town to wait for their hearing. When the time comes they have been instructed to return to a certain point of entry. Individuals can request an interview to determine a valid reason on the basis of fear to not be forced back into Mexico while awaiting their trial in immigration court. However, these interviews are often carried out hastily, over the phone, and with individuals usually held in custody throughout the process. There is also no objective criteria for who passes the interview, with a study determining that only about 40% of those expressing a fear of returning were granted an interview, and of those only one to 13% of asylum seekers are allowed to stay.
Otherwise, there are very few exceptions to the MPP, with the most common being unaccompanied children, those with pressing health issues, and those determined to be a severe risk of torture or persecution should they be returned. When the alien returns to the US they attend their hearing and it is then determined by a judge whether they will be allowed to remain in the United States.
This makeup of the Migrant Protection Protocol presents a whole host of issues. Who is actually placed in the Migrant Protection Protocol is determined on a case-by-case basis. Yet, the Protocol decrees that unaccompanied minors should not be sent back, which has led to a trend of parents abandoning their children to secure their chance of staying in the United States. Additionally, there is no way to monitor those who are returned, as the Mexican government does not keep track of the incoming migrants. There are no designated shelters or means of legal counsel awaiting the rejected asylum seekers, who often have a time span of months to sit out before they are set to re-enter the United States.
The border towns the migrants are returned to like, Tijuana, are some of the most dangerous in North America, if not the world. In 2018, Tijuana was home to 2,502 (126 per 100 000) murder cases, with serious gang violence and turf wars splitting the cities. The asylum seekers that are forcibly sent back often find themselves particular targets for gang violence, with over 400 reported cases of ‘rape, torture, kidnapping, and other violence’. The dangerous conditions the migrants are living are also making it difficult for them to attain the legal assistance they need.
Migrants sleep outside of a church in Juarez, Mexico. Source: The Washington Post
The dangers of illegal immigration are only amplified by political instability and the US is clearly not equipped, at least for the time being, to manage the large numbers of humans flowing across the border. Yet, to force over 50 000 people back into objectively high-risk conditions, should not be confused with a humane and sustainable border control policy. An overhaul of the policy, so that migrants have more fair and accessible access to legal help, and reform of grounds for deportation would go a long way in minimizing the human impact and degree of tragedy that asylum seekers face on the US southern border today.