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ICYMI: USA Today Spotlights “One Deadly Week” in Ongoing Human Rights Crisis Along the Border

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A powerful and deeply-reported set of stories in USA Today explores the “dangerous journeys and the broken immigration system that awaits” asylum seekers and refugees fleeing instability and violence and heading to the U.S. border – where the Trump administration’s policies have worsened and exacerbated a human rights crisis.

Relying on reporting from four countries and in six U.S. states, the USA Today package of stories provides a detailed overview of what’s happening and what’s at stake with our border and asylum policies, including a collection of powerful first-person accounts and harrowing stories.  

In “One deadly week reveals where the immigration crisis begins — and where it ends,” Rick Jervis reports:  

 For seven days, the reporting teams documented – hour by hour, scene by scene – the complex issues that have combined to create a precarious scenario for the United States and nations to the south that are grappling with undocumented migrants. The consequences and implications were clearly visible at times and dangerously hidden at others:

Strained and exhausted aid groups struggling to manage shelters choked with twice as many people, or more, as they were built to house. Border Patrol agents thrust into roles they aren’t trained to handle. Immigration courts overwhelmed – with seemingly no manageable caseloads in sight and no chance at swift justice. Local governments scrambling at their own expense to feed and house migrants abandoned in their cities by the U.S government, with costs swelling into the millions. And, day after day, migrants staring down death and hardship in their search for a better life.

In “It’s imperative to capture all sides of the immigration debate. How we did it, during one perilous week” Manny Garcia details USA Today reporters’ week in the field: 

So let me share the level of difficulty here: Try unspooling a week’s worth of interviews conducted by reporters scattered across 20,000 miles, adding hundreds of photographs and hours of videos, and turning all of it into a seamless presentation for our readers in a newspaper, on a desktop, on mobile devices and social channels.

The level of detail is magnificent – from journalists who were there as children were entertained with lollipops, who were there to track migrants wearing ankle monitors while awaiting asylum hearings, who were there to see Border Patrol agents handing water to those stopped, as well as volunteers leaving water bottles for migrants traveling through desert country.

The team also shared stories of death, such as the three men found dead in a canal tunnel, plus bodies of a preschooler and a man, despite wearing a life preserver, who drowned. Houses of worship and volunteers are central to the reporting; Old and New Testament prayers are a constant.

In “Asylum seekers in US face constant surveillance, long odds of winning their cases,” Daniel Connolly, Aaron Montes and Lauren Villagran explain the U.S. asylum process, and the Trump administration’s efforts to obliterate it:  

The Trump administration has taken many steps to discourage migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. Among them: the Trump administration has required that migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border from Central American countries must first apply for asylum in another country before requesting protection in the U.S. The policy, which was implemented on July 16, is allowed to be practiced while immigrant rights groups challenge the policy in court.

At immigration authorities’ discretion, single adults and family units can be enrolled into the Remain in Mexico policy, where they are returned to Mexican cities along the border. 

More than 20,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico so far this year under the program, according to Mexico’s Interior Ministry. 

Lastly, in “The 2019 migrant surge is unlike any we’ve seen before. This is why,” Daniel Gonzalez details the violence and strife that has lead to an uptick in migrants seeking safe harbor in the United States: 

But the reasons behind the wave of Central Americans migrating to the U.S. are far more complicated than simply blaming “loopholes” or human smugglers.

Central American migrants often cite violent gangs that demand extortion payments or target teenage boys for gang recruitment or force teenage girls to become their “girlfriends” as some of the main reasons for fleeing.

The region’s two largest and most menacing gangs, 18th Street gang and MS-13, originated in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1980s and were exported to Central America through deportations. They have expanded significantly in all three Northern Triangle countries through the recruitment of unemployed teens and young men, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

While homicide rates in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have improved in recent years, the Northern Triangle countries still have some of the highest murder rates in the world.