EL PASO, Texas — Immigrant advocates are again urging the U.S. government to stop sending asylum seekers to wait out their claims in dangerous Mexican border cities.
They also plan to seek the support of “every municipality, county government and school board” on the Southwest border to issue proclamations opposing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program as inhumane and demanding that the federal government end it.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials say MPP has been one of their most successful tools in reducing a migrant wave that taxed the resources of border agencies, placed detention centers above capacity and led to allegations of shortcomings in the care of detainees.
But migrant advocates say sending Central Americans and other foreigners to Mexico has placed them in danger, and that returning Mexicans to the country they’re fleeing out of fear for their lives is illegal.
El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector said it makes no sense for the U.S. government to issue travel warnings to Northern Mexico in light of recent drug cartel violence, then turn around and send asylum seekers there.
“We witnessed major attacks by the cartels against the Mexican military and the federal government, successfully repelling them,” Spector said, referring to the Sinaloa cartel taking over the city of Culiacan in October and forcing the army to release the son of a jailed drug lord. “This is a historic increase in violence that not only puts Mexican communities at risk but also those who are seeking asylum here and are returned to Mexico.”
More than 55,000 migrants have been sent to Mexico under the MPP program, including some 13,000 in Juarez, across the border from El Paso. Advocates like Linda Rivas, of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, say many of those migrants either suffer violence or are constantly exposed to it.
“The policies, as they exist, are geared toward deportation. People first are rejected, then must wait out in the cold in Juarez. It seems that El Paso is constantly being used as a testing ground of programs that are cruel to see which one works,” Rivas said on Tuesday.
In Juarez, where around 13,000 migrants have been sent to wait out their asylum claims and where 3,000 Mexican citizens are camped out in public places fleeing drug violence, a drug cartel recently unleashed a wave of violence that left 20 people dead and 25 vehicles burning in the space of five days.
Lawyer: Separating migrant families not a ‘new phenomenon’
Spector, who is also the sponsor of a group of asylees called Mexicans in Exile, said MPP is just the latest in a long series of federal government programs meant to discourage immigration.
“Family separation is nothing new. It was happening 10 years ago in an effort to deter Mexican immigrants … by separating women from their husbands and children and locking them up for prolonged periods of time for the purpose of discouraging them (from staying) and encouraging them to go back to Mexico,” Spector said.
But in light of the migrant surge, those hardline policies have “evolved” to the point that asylum seekers are now routinely turned back at ports of entry in violation of U.S. law and international treaties, Spector said.
Mexicans in Exile and Las Americas aren’t the only groups opposing the MPP program. The American Civil Liberty Union has brought a lawsuit seeking to end the program.
Meantime, top federal law-enforcement officials who’ve visited El Paso recently warned that, without MPP or the cooperation of the Mexican government, the migrant surge that’s been brought to a halt could get out of control again.
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