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Trump admin’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ program now in Tucson sector: report

By: - November 22, 2019 5:02 pm
Ashley Maria

Ashley Maria, a Guatemalan migrant, peeks through empty water bottles at a Phoenix church on Tuesday, October 9. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Border officials will implement the highly-criticized ‘Remain in Mexico’ program in the Tucson area of the Arizona border by shuttling asylum-seekers to the Texas border and releasing them in Ciudad Juarez, according to a Washington Post report

Officials estimate DHS will send at least one busload each day from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector to the Texas border city of El Paso, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal plans. Migrants will have interviews to determine if they would be at risk in Mexico, and if not, will be sent to Ciudad Juárez to await their U.S. immigration court hearings.

Remain in Mexico is officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols. It involves returning non-Mexican asylum-seekers to Mexico while they await adjudication of their immigration cases instead of releasing them in the United States. 

The program began in January 2019 at the San Diego-Tijuana border and was later expanded to a few other border cities. In June the US Department of State announced MPP will be implemented across the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, MPP is in place in six border areas. The National Immigration Council said those border towns are in San Ysidro and Calexico (both in California) and the Texas communities of El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo and Brownsville. In Laredo and Brownsville, “tent courts” were set up near ports of entry for migrants to appear before a judge via a video teleconference system. 

DHS has returned more than 55,000 migrants to Mexico, according to an October report from the agency. 

Immigration experts and advocates argue the due process of asylum-seekers are trampled under MPP. Moreover, humanitarian groups like Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First say migrants are subjected to dangerous conditions in border communities. The groups have documented hundreds of cases of rape, murder and other violent crimes against migrants waiting under MPP. 

Department of Homeland Security officials applaud the program, arguing it’s helped reduce border crossings and weeded out “fraudulent and illegitimate asylum claims, thus prioritizing individuals who truly need protection.”

In Arizona, migrants who crossed near the Yuma/San Luis area were returned to Calexico (across the border from El Centro, California) via MPP, according to the Kino Border Initiative.

The larger Tucson sector, which spans 262 miles from Yuma County to the New Mexico border, had yet to see MPP implemented. That ended Friday, according to statements from the Kino Border Initiative and Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, both Arizona-based groups.  

U.S. Customs and Border Protection had not officially confirmed the implementation of MPP in the Tucson area by Friday afternoon. 

AZ groups:  It is ‘egregious’ to transport migrants away from available services

In a statement, the non-profit Kino Border Initiative which provides food, shelter, clothing and other services to migrants in Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona, said Ciudad Juarez is already at capacity “to meet the basic needs of asylum seekers.”

“The shelters in the city are overstretched, and many of the asylum-seekers currently in the city are living in precarious and substandard conditions. As winter arrives, this will force people – including infants, children, and the elderly – to live in particularly hostile and unsafe conditions,” the group said.

Besides the safety concerns and outstretched resources in Ciudad Juarez, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project – which provides free legal assistance to migrants on the border and in detention – condemned the government’s move to shuttle migrants away from communities where services are available. 

“Transferring people away from these resources will effectively guarantee that people who could have had access to both humanitarian aid and legal assistance at the Arizona border will now have access to neither,” FIRRP said in a statement. “The right to seek asylum in the United States is unambiguously protected by U.S. and international law, and asylum seekers have the right to wait safely in the United States while their claims are processed in a fair manner. We urge the administration to reverse course immediately and end the Remain in Mexico policy across the border.”

The International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement organization that also operates a centralized shelter for migrants in Phoenix, has also urged for the reversal of MPP.

Kirkpatrick: ‘Heartbroken’ MPP will be expanded in Tucson sector

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick said the Remain in Mexico program is “un-American” and she was opposed to the expansion. 

“The asylum seekers I have met have shared heartbreaking stories of resilience and hope. They have risked their lives to come to the United States for a better life,” she said in a press release. “I’m heartbroken to learn that the MPP will now be implemented in Tucson, I believe it is morally wrong and violates domestic and international law. I wait anxiously for the Ninth Circuit ruling of whether or not MPP is legal, and in the meantime, my staff are working with local groups and making call to see if there is anything else we can do to fight this.”

On Tuesday, the president of a union that represents U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees told the House Homeland Security committee that MPP spurs human rights violations, Roll Call reported.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.