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Asylum-seekers in Arizona sent back to Mexico as Trump's 'Migrant Protection Protocols' expands

'Remain in Mexico' starts in Nogales

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin sending migrants detained in Arizona back to Nogales, expanding the highly controversial "Migrant Protection Protocols" to Arizona, Homeland Security officials announced Thursday. 

In an email, DHS officials said that any migrants attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization "regardless of location of entry," may be returned to Mexico to await their immigration court proceedings.

This supplants a previous effort in November that attempted to bus some migrants from Tucson to El Paso, where they would be sent back across the border to wait in freezing encampments while their asylum requests are processed through a slow and increasingly backlogged immigration court system.

"The expansion to the Nogales Port of Entry reflects the continued commitment by both the United States and Mexico to a program that has proven effective at reducing human smuggling across the Southwest Border," claimed DHS officials. DHS operates MPP at seven border-crossing ports, including around San Diego and Calexico, Calif., and El Paso, Laredo, Brownsville and Eagle Pass in Texas. Nogales brings the total to eight.

56,000 asylum-claimants sent to Mexico

DHS officials called the program a "cornerstone" of the department's efforts to relieve what it called a "crushing backlog of pending asylum cases," and said that migrants with "meritorious asylum claims can receive protection in months, rather than waiting in limbo for years." 

About 56,000 migrants who requested asylum in the United States have been sent back to Mexico under MPP, DHS officials said.  

Data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a nonpartisan project based at Syracuse University, estimated on Dec. 19 that about 39 percent of immigrants in MPP are still waiting for the first "master calendar" hearings, compared to about 36 percent of those who were allowed to stay in the U.S. 

Additionally, TRAC found only about 4 percent of immigrants diverted into MPP had access to an attorney, compared to about 32 percent of those who were allowed to remain in the U.S.

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Of those sent to Mexico under MPP, most people are from three Central American countries — around 20,000 are from Honduras, 15,000 are from Guatemala, and about 7,400 from El Salvador. However, MPP also includes people from Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru; all seeking asylum from their home countries.

While there have been signs that MPP—originally called the "Remain in Mexico" policy— would come to Arizona after the program's announcement by then-DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen just over a year ago, DHS officials held off until this week. 

MPP has been widely criticized by humanitarian aid groups, including the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, the bishop of Tucson, as well as by U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick. Despite multiple legal challenges, as well as protests and sharp  criticism, the program has been implemented across the southwestern border.

"We've been in profound opposition to MPP since its inception a year ago, and are concerned and angered by its continued expansion. Today, 'Remain in Mexico' arrived to Nogales, and a group of asylum-seeking individuals and families from Cuba, Venezuela, and Central America were returned," said Katie Sharar, a spokeswoman for KBI.

Sharar said that she went to Nogales for the afternoon meal at the comedor, the soup kitchen that KBI has run for years to help deportees in Nogales.

"Some of them had been waiting months at the port of entry and will now have to wait longer to present for their court dates," said Sharar. "There is not adequate infrastructure in Nogales to provide asylum-seekers with the services they need in terms of safety, housing, and legal support, and we fear the situation will only get worse as numbers of people returned increase."

Some families were sent back to Mexico, along with one man who was sent back to Mexico without his wife, who remained in the United States because she was pregnant.

Sharar also highlighted an important problem for the roughly 18 migrants who had been returned to Nogales under MPP — their paperwork, including a document called a "Notice to Appear," requires the migrants left in Nogales, Sonora to travel to Juarez for the court hearings. This means that migrant families will have to travel seven to eight hours to attend their court hearings. If they do not, they will be judged in absentia and lose their cases by default.

“I’m saddened and frankly outraged that this is now happening out of the Nogales port, it’s a policy that doesn’t reflect our Southern Arizona values," said Kirkpatrick. 

"This country was built by people leaving their homeland and journeying here for a better life, it’s the great American story," said the Democratic congresswoman. "Since the Trump administration announced the implementation of the MPP earlier this year, I have said that it is un-American and inhumane. Reports have indicated that hundreds of people returned or placed in Mexico under this policy have fallen victim to kidnapping, sexual assault, extortion, and other violations as they await to be heard or provided legal guidance." 

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Kirkpatrick said that she wrote a letter to DHS demanding an end to the "Remain in Mexico" policy, and explain how the agency set up protections for asylum seekers, adding that her office, along with Grijalva's are working on "demanding transparency from DHS and fight for those seeking asylum in our community." 

On Dec. 2, Edward J. Weisenburger, the Catholic bishop of Tucson, said that MPP is a "policy that does not provide protection to these most vulnerable people and in fact has placed them in significant danger in cities that cannot adequately assist them. For these reasons I call on others of good will to oppose this policy and to join me in communicating this opposition to our congressional delegation." 

"MPP has been an extremely effective tool as the United States, under the leadership of President Trump, continues to address the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis at the border," said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of DHS. Wolf remains acting head of the agency after his predecessor Kevin McAleenan was sacked in November. The last time the agency had a secretary who was confirmed by Congress was before Nielsen was forced out in April. 

"The department is fully committed to the program and will continually work with the Government of Mexico to expand and strengthen it. I am confident in the program’s continued success in adjudicating meritorious cases quickly and preventing fraudulent claims," Wolf said. 

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1 comment on this story

Jan 3, 2020, 7:54 am
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This country was built by people who came to obey the law.  They go to the nearest US Embassy and apply to immigrate, then wait to hear back.  Or go to Mexico to wait, their choice.

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Protestors in Tucson decry a move to begin busing migrants from Tucson to El Paso where they will be sent back across the border to Juarez, as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols.


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