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Deliberate Cruelty: The Consequences and Chaos of Trump’s Remain in Mexico and Asylum Policies

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Wolf at the Door: Acting DHS Chief Claims “Success” When Result is Failure

At the El Paso border last week, Trump’s acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf called the administration’s border and asylum policies successful and asserted they have made “progress in solving the humanitarian crisis.” He claims it is due to policies such as Remain in Mexico (called by DHS, without irony, as MPP or the Migration Protection Protocols).

Several deeply-reported pieces offer damning details about what’s happening in our name because of Remain in Mexico and the radical efforts to deter virtually all asylum-seekers. The result is that our government is deliberately and relentlessly failing to protect and fairly process those with a strong claim to be considered refugees.

In a 60 Minute episode that aired Sunday, Tania Avalos, the wife and mother of the man and his 23-month-old daughter who drowned trying to reach the U.S. who were seen in an iconic photo earlier this year, retells her journey traveling from El Salvador to the U.S. only to lose her loved ones along the way. 

The border town was a blistering waiting room, for Central Americans hoping for asylum in the United States. According to data from the Department of Homeland Security there was at least a two month wait to see a U.S. immigration judge. Even then just 2 out of 10 Salvadorans meet the threshold to be granted asylum. Oscar, Tania and Milton didn’t know those odds when they got to Matamoros and they had spent all of their money.

“We said to each other, the time is now. The time is now for us to do this.” Their improvised plan was to surrender to the U.S. border patrol once they got to the other side. “I noticed him starting to get frustrated. I could see that he was going up and going under. I swallowed so much water, I swallowed so much water. And I was desperate…and I could still see my husband there struggling, struggling along with my daughter.”

But it is clear that the cruelty inflicted on asylum-seekers is not accidental, but rather part of a deliberately cruel deterrence strategy. 

In a ProPublica piece entitled, “The Trump Administration Was Ordered to Let These Migrants Seek Asylum. It Didn’t Tell the Judges Hearing Their Cases,” Dara Lind exposes the failure to implement a federal court ruling:

The Trump administration appears not to have informed immigration judges or prosecutors about a federal court ruling this week that ordered it not to block asylum for migrants who had agreed to wait at the U.S.-Mexico border.

… Part of compliance with any court order is issuing guidance to the federal employees who would be applying it — in this case, immigration judges and prosecutors. When the Supreme Court issued a ruling allowing the asylum-ban regulation to be implemented, in September, guidance was sent to immigration judges the next day.

Two immigration lawyers told ProPublica that they had hearings this week, after the ruling was issued, for clients whose asylum requests would be covered by the new ruling. Both of them said that neither the judges nor the prosecutors in those cases had been informed.

As conditions at these border cities continue to worsen as migrants fall ill and are forced into tent encampments to await their asylum process, they are growing more desperate. The Washington Post notes:

In recent weeks, dozens of parents have watched as their children, sleeping outside in the cold, have become sick or despondent. Many decided to get them help the only way they knew how — sending them across the border alone. As Josue and Madeline grew sicker, it was Marili’s turn to make a decision.

These cases illustrate the human toll of the Trump administration’s policy and suggest the United States, Mexico and the United Nations were unprepared to handle many of the unforeseen consequences.

…The camp consists of hundreds of tents clustered together on a spit of sidewalk and a stretch of scrubland along the Rio Grande. There are only a few showers, so many people bathe and wash their clothes in the river. Once a dead cow floated by and became lodged next to the camp. Another time, the headless corpse of a man washed ashore.

The Wall Street Journal details the convoluted process that is considered the Remain in Mexico (MPP) policy:

Before it implemented Remain in Mexico, the federal government tried to deal with the influx at the border by detaining migrants in the U.S. But its border facilities, most of which were built more than a decade ago and designed to house single adult men for just a few hours, became “dangerously overcrowded” and unable to meet CBP cleanliness standards, according to a July report by the internal watchdog at the Department of Homeland Security, CBP’s parent agency.

…’They’re supposed to be given a chance to get out of MPP, but in practice the problem is it’s just not happening,’ said Natalie Cadwalader, a staff attorney for San Antonio Region Justice for our Neighbors, a nonprofit that provides legal services to immigrants.

Mexico has agreed to be responsible for the safety of the migrants—with some financial support from the U.S.—and offer space in shelters. The migrants and local advocates say the shelters can’t accommodate them all and the conditions are squalid. They add that traveling through Matamoros to reach the shelters is dangerous.