Slow and Unpredictable U.S. Asylum Process is Creating a Critical Backlog in Mexico, Where Violence is Soaring
Washington, DC—Trump administration officials have repeatedly directed asylum-seekers to head to one of the 45 designated land ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, asserting that migrants seeking asylum should apply “legally” rather than crossing over into the United States between official checkpoints. However, as found in a new report by leading research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the Department of Homeland Security is either unwilling or unable to process asylum-seekers who are complying with the administration’s new policy and presenting themselves at ports of entry.
WOLA research at the border indicates that DHS has not adequately equipped ports of entry to screen migrants who are applying for asylum the “right” way at the southwest border. Other evidence suggests border officials are purposefully slowing down the rate of asylum receptions, as well as discouraging migrants and denying them the right to initiate the asylum process. These factors have contributed to a significant backlog of migrants, who face the risk of waiting indefinitely in Mexican border cities as the country continues to register record levels of violence.
In the second installation of a series of reports, “Come Back Later”: Challenges for Asylum Seekers Waiting at Ports of Entry, WOLA experts Adam Isacson and Maureen Meyer who have conducted extensive documentary research over the last seven years at the U.S.-Mexico border, take stock of what is happening at the ports of entry and on the Mexico side.
Here are some of the report’s main findings:
- Evidence points to a major slowdown of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) accepting and processing asylum seekers at ports of entry. While it is generally unclear whether this “slowdown” in processing asylum applicants is due to capacity issues or is a deliberate interpretation of the Trump administration’s indifference toward refugees and asylum-seekers, those in need of protection face an unpredictable future when they approach ports of entry. The agency tasked with processing asylum-seekers at the border is notoriously underfunded and understaffed and the Trump administration has done almost nothing to mitigate the capacity needs. Backlogs at ports of entry are leaving asylum-seekers to figure out the complicated process on their own with little access to protection against threats in Mexico.
- Migrants who have a right to request asylum are being driven away at ports of entry across the border, putting them at risk in Mexico. While it is legal and was, in fact, encouraged by the Trump administration for asylum-seekers to head to ports of entry, CBP officers are routinely blocking some migrants from starting the process. In what is now a border-wide policy, agents position themselves at the border, pre-screening people before they are even allowed to approach the designated port of entry. When migrants seeking protection are accepted at ports of entry, it is often infrequent and sporadic.
- Backlogs of migrants at ports of entry are placing increased pressure on Mexico, a country that is not safe for many migrants. Migrants in Mexican border cities are particularly vulnerable to kidnappings, extortion, and recruitment into illicit smuggling, crimes that are met with widespread impunity, as 99 percent of reported crimes against migrants go unsolved. With the U.S. Department of Justice pushing additional limitations to access asylum, there is greater pressure on Mexico, a country which is suffering record levels of violence and is ill-equipped to absorb the numbers of people seeking protection in the United States.
See WOLA’s previous report in this series, on the impact of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, here.