U.S. releases 'Remain in Mexico' refugee after judge grants asylum
More than 24 hours after he became the first person granted refugee status under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their immigration claims are pending, a man was released to a sponsor in San Diego Wednesday night after his attorney and advocates called for his release.
“Alec” was released from the San Ysidro Port of Entry late Wednesday after his attorney Robyn Barnard, with Human Rights First, held a press conference with community nonprofit Alliance San Diego earlier in the day to call for his release by immigration officials.
He plans to stay with a sponsor in San Diego for a few days before reuniting with family members in a different state, according to Alliance San Diego.
The case is considered a test case for how successful asylum claims will be handled under the new policy.
Alec had been granted asylum Tuesday following an hours-long hearing before an immigration judge. He was one of the first people to return to Mexico under the Trump administration’s 6-month-old policy, where he remained in Tijuana for months before his immigration court hearing.
Barnard said attorneys prepared hundreds of documents in support of Alec’s claim and that he testified for hours. The Department of Homeland Security also ran security checks and found Alec cleared them.
But despite the grant of asylum, Alec remained detained at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego by immigration officials who threatened to return him to Mexico until they decided whether to appeal the immigration judge’s ruling.
“There is no reason for him to be in detention. He has been found to be a refugee, we have members of the community that are ready and willing to house him and to welcome him into this country, and he has an attorney. He’s only 1% of those who’ve been returned to Mexico who actually have the benefit of counsel,” Barnard said Wednesday afternoon.
An evangelical Christian church leader in Honduras, Alec was targeted by violent international gang MS-13 for helping gang members to get out of the life, Barnard said.
“He was threatened with death, he was attacked and he was shot by the gang. Based on that, the judge found he was a refugee because of his religion,” Barnard said.
“Alec is a man of God. He believes deeply in the laws of the United States. He has followed every rule along the way, including waiting in Tijuana for six months for his day in court,” Barnard added.
Implemented by former Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen this past January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require those seeking entry to the U.S. from Mexico – including those wishing to make a claim of asylum – to “wait their turn” to make their claims at a Port of Entry while remaining in Mexico.
Barnard said 30,000 people have been returned to Mexico under the policy.
Andrea Guerrero of San Diego nonprofit community organization Alliance San Diego called Alec’s asylum case a test case, as his is the first grant of asylum under the program.
“It’s important how the government responds and we’re disappointed that how they’ve chosen to respond thus far is to continue to detain somebody who should be set free, continue to threaten somebody with expulsion who should be opening a new chapter in their life, who should be thinking about how they’re going to fully integrate into this country,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said there are no grounds for Alec to be deported, but that under the program the government is expelling people in violation of domestic and international law that is currently the subject of litigation.
She disputed it is safe for migrants and asylum seekers to remain in Tijuana while waiting for their immigration claims to be adjudicated.
“Tijuana is now the most dangerous city in the world. It’s a myth that somebody whose life has been deemed endangered by a court of the United States would be safe in Tijuana,” Guerrero said.
A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection did not immediately return an email request for comment.