Washington, D.C.—Today, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), together with more than 160 organizations and individuals from the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere sent a letter to the Mexican government expressing profound concern for ITS failure to ensure the safety of asylum seekers returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP). This policy—also commonly termed “Remain in Mexico”—forces most non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases move through U.S. immigration courts, often a process that takes months. Since the start of MPP in December 2018, the United States has returned more than 50,000 asylum seekers to Mexican border towns. In September 2019, the U.S. and Mexican governments agreed to expand the program, which is now operating at the ports in six U.S. border cities.
Many asylum seekers are being returned to wait for their hearings in some of the most dangerous cities in Mexico, where they make easy targets for criminal groups. According to the letter, many “are sleeping in the street or in tent camps… where they are exposed to inclement weather, illness from a lack of proper sanitary conditions, and persecution by criminal groups and, sometimes, Mexican authorities.” A report by the organization Human Rights First found that more than 340 asylum seekers returned to Mexico under MPP have been subjected to kidnapping, sexual abuse, extortion, torture, or other types of violence while waiting in Mexican border towns. According to the Jesuit Service Corps’ Migrant Search Program, 36 percent of migrant disappearances in Mexico occur in northern border states.
The letter expresses particular concern for returned asylum seekers facing heightened vulnerability. “We are profoundly concerned that the expansion of MPP has resulted in an increased number of particularly vulnerable asylum seekers being returned to Mexico, such as pregnant women, LGBTQ individuals, people with disabilities, and Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States,” reads the letter. “This, despite the fact that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s guiding principles specify that certain individuals should not be returned to Mexico. This includes Mexican citizens, individuals with special physical and/or psychological health concerns, or individuals who would likely suffer persecution or torture in Mexico.”
The letter requests that the Mexican government provide specific information on the steps it is taking to ensure the safety and well-being of asylum seekers returned to Mexico under MPP. It also requests information on the criteria Mexican migration enforcement agents are supposed to follow to ensure that Mexico does not accept particularly vulnerable migrants at risk of persecution in Mexico. “Because the Mexican government agreed to implement this program, it must accept the responsibility of treating returned migrants with dignity and respecting their rights,” reads the letter. “The situation in Mexican border cities demonstrates the Mexican government’s lack of compliance with these obligations.”