The human costs of the Trump administration’s anti-asylum policy continue to escalate. Human Rights First has now tracked nearly 820 public reports of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and other violence against asylum-seekers returned to Mexico under the inhumane and illegal Migrant Protection Protocols policy, also known as Remain in Mexico. “But our count is only the tip of the iceberg,” the group cautions, “as the overwhelming majority of returned individuals have not spoken with human rights investigators or journalists. The actual number of attacks is certainly much higher.”
“Recently documented attacks on those returned to Mexico through MPP include: a Salvadoran asylum seeker murdered in Tijuana in November 2019 after DHS returned him there, an asylum seeking father tortured in front of his 3-year-old son during their kidnapping ordeal in Reynosa, and a young Cuban asylum seeker raped in Mexico after being returned by DHS to Matamoros,” Human Rights First said in the report, A Year of Horrors: The Trump Administration’s Illegal Returns of Asylum Seekers to Danger in Mexico.
It’s a fact that this policy has been a boon to cartels and thugs. “Asylum seekers returned to Mexico are targeted for kidnapping and assault in shelters,” the report notes, “in taxis and buses, on the streets while looking for food, work, and shelter, on their way to and from U.S. immigration court, and even while seeking help from Mexican police and migration officers. Asylum seekers who have moved to other parts of Mexico in an attempt to find safer places to wait for their MPP hearings have been targeted by kidnappers while in transit, at bus stations, and at airports, when returning to border cities for their hearings.”
This violence will be worsened by a recent expansion of the policy. Under that move, asylum-seekers who have asked for protection in Arizona will be returned across the border to Nogales, Sonora. However, their courts dates will be 350 miles away, which will require them to travel on their own through dangerous regions. "This choice presents enormous obstacles to asylum-seekers," immigration policy expert Aaron Reichlin-Melnick told CBS News. "Nogales is seven to eight hours from Ciudad Juárez and the journey for many can be dangerous, as it requires going through cartel-controlled territory."
Roughly 60,000 asylum-seekers have been forcibly returned to Mexico under the policy, including some 16,000 children and 500 babies, Human Rights First said. These children, as noted in previous reports from the group, haven’t been spared from violence. “Our tally of attacks on MPP returnees identified at least 201 publicly reported cases of kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of children in MPP,” the report said, up from the nearly 140 kidnappings or attempted kidnappings tallied in the earlier report, released on Dec. 5. The report notes that policy has also resulted in another form of family separation: “As the length of time children spend at risk of kidnapping, child trafficking, and sexual assault in Mexico under MPP grows, some parents make the desperate decision to send their children alone to safety in the United States.”
Among those parents is Alexis Martinez, who recounted to NPR in November watching his children, 5-year-old Benjamin and 7-year-old Osiel, holding hands as they crossed into the U.S. alone. They’d been living outdoors in the border camp in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and Benjamin was only getting sicker. “These tents are not good for children because the cold goes right through them,” Martinez told NPR. “Sometimes you do things not because you're a bad father, but because you want what's good for them, and you don't want to see them suffer.” During a recent visit to the camp, Democratic legislators urged the public not to forget these families.
“We are here to try and hold the administration accountable, but we also need the American people to stand up and say we will not allow this to continue,” California Rep. Linda Sánchez said during a press conference at the border last week. “When we saw the separation of families at the border, the public outcry forced the administration to change policy. All they’ve done is change it across the border and they’re hoping out of sight means out of mind for the American public.”