Biden administration needs to fix the condition of migrant camps faster…
The injustices occurring in these camps are unfathomable…
As we approach mid-March, I want to see more severe action from the administration, to deal with the atrocities occurring at these migrant camps. For migrants, who are escaping detrimental conditions in their home countries, it’s completely unacceptable to arrive in these camps and be subject to sexual abuse, theft, violence, and sordid living conditions. If it means calling it a crisis, call it a crisis.
In a piece by Carlos Iván Molina Aguilar, in The San Diego Reader, he details the kind of atrocities occurring at the migrant camp in Tijuana, Mexico:
Since February 19 when 25 cases of asylum seekers were accepted for review, around five hundred migrants have established an improvised camp in the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The Migrant Protection Protocols program announced by Biden’s administration has given hope to those stuck in Tijuana due to the Trump’s Remain in Mexico program.
According to one of the Tijuana’s migrant officials, Jose Luis Perez, 25 asylum seekers crossed the border that day, and groups of that same number will be crossing every day. Most migrants in the camp (called El Chaparral) have no appointment, they heard about the new migrant program and decided to camp here hoping for legal help.
That reason pushed Jenny Cruz and her family of two children and her husband to come. She has an appointment in two months and she pointed out that they had no other option than to stay there because they can’t afford a place to live while waiting.
On top of that we have to pay almost 100 pesos ($5) daily just for using bathrooms here and to take a shower; a nearby hotel charges 50 pesos ($2.50) per person, even for kids” she explained. “We’re in a desperate situation in Tijuana; the other day the police detained me with my children and threatened me with deportation, took me right away in the patrol car, and demanded all the money we had to let us go. We gave them 800 pesos ($40), all that we had for food,” she added.
What happened to lawful asylum practices? Depending on the circumstances — and, in most cases, numerous migrants have justifiable cases — we should be allowing these migrants to reside in this country as they go through the process. Until Trump’s caustic tenure, I thought this was the way we conducted lawful immigration policy. However, after doing some digging, I found a very concerning disclosure; a disclosure that symbolizes the inhumane destruction the Trump administration inflicted on these migrants. This discovery came from a piece by Austin Kocher on theconversation.com:
Remain in Mexico” made it nearly impossible for asylum-seekers to find safety in the U.S. But the asylum process can have profoundly unequal results — regardless of who sits in the White House.
Asylum outcomes are often determined as much by which asylum officer or immigration judge decides the case as they are determined by merit. For instance, immigration judges in Atlanta reject, on average, 97% of asylum cases, while those in New York City approve, on average, 74%.
Even though El Salvador and Honduras are among the five top countries in the world for violent deaths, typically courts deny more than 80% of asylum cases from those countries, in large part because the U.S. government has been reluctant to recognize gang persecution and domestic violence as grounds for asylum. (Kocher, theconversation.com).
This stuck out for me; I feel many people (especially “populist Republicans”) focus on the intricacies of immigration and the contradictions. Populist Republicans like to claim ALL migrants just sneak across the border, that the solution is a border wall when sometimes the problem is right in front of us. I’m not claiming all asylum cases should be granted in favor of the migrant, but why are immigration judges denying 80 percent of cases from Honduras and El Salvador? Furthermore, look at the issue related to location: 97 percent in Atlanta, 74 percent in New York. We have an issue, yet again, with how/who appoints the judges in these districts.
In regards to the impartiality of asylum, Kocher conveys another critical aspect:
Lack of legal counsel is another reason migrants waiting in Mexico might not have appeared at their U.S. court hearings or may have been denied asylum and issued a deportation order.
But it was much harder to get a U.S. immigration lawyer in Tamaulipas, Mexico, than in Texas in 2019. In fiscal 2020, only 14% of migrants forced to “remain in Mexico” had found an immigration attorney, compared with 80% of asylum cases for migrants inside the U.S.
Without a lawyer, communicating with the American court system across an international border while living in a camp became a nearly insurmountable barrier. (Kocher, theconversation.com).
Our system essentially sets up migrants to fail, based on this notion, and then we commonly wonder why we have such a problem. In other words, how can we expect people to flee violence and danger — which, of course, is a major impediment — and then put together the resources to fund representation? Look at the other point Kocher reveals; 14 percent of migrants forced to “remain in Mexico” found an attorney. The entire supposition is merciless, and concretely derived from Stephen Miller and Trump. How can we expect families to escape an environment where they can’t properly provide clothes for their children — as the cartels steal their income and shatter their livelihood — but immigration judges are approving twice as many cases when these migrants have representation? Come on.
The nonprofit organization Human Rights First documented 1,544 cases of asylum-seekers who became victims of violence while they waited in Mexico.
In one case, Customs and Border Protection returned a Salvadoran family to Mexico in May 2019 despite their expressed fear. In November 2019, the father was stabbed to death in Tijuana, leaving behind his wife and two children.
“I told the judge that I was afraid for my children because we were in a horrible, horrible place, and we didn’t feel safe here,” his widow told the news outlet Telemundo.
And Vice Magazine reported on David, an asylum-seeker from Guatemala, who was kidnapped by a cartel five hours after he was sent back to Mexico in 2019. David escaped, but because the cartel had taken his paperwork, making an asylum claim became all but impossible. (Kocher, theconversation.com).
The Trump administration’s conception of these camps, especially in Matamoros, is outrageous. The entire purpose is to create an environment where migrants feel threatened, disenchanted, and forsaken. Miller intended to create an environment where these migrants would be without options and acquiescent to “give up.” The Trump administration was perfectly delighted with the cartel impairing migrants, as they had hoped for this outcome.
The exodus from the Matamoros camp, which once sheltered more than 2,500 asylum-seekers, marks the end of a Trump-era policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols. Commonly known as “Remain in Mexico,” the January 2019 policy forced 71,000 migrants who were detained along the U.S.-Mexico border back into Mexico to file for asylum and wait for many months while their claims were processed.
The Trump administration claimed the Migrant Protection Protocols ensured a “safe and orderly process.” But it created a refugee crisis in Mexico, whose border cities were not equipped to house, feed and protect tens of thousands of refugees. Matamoros is one of many tent camps and Catholic shelters set up to serve this population.
Here’s what the Biden administration needs to do, and they need to do it, hurriedly. They’ve ended the Migrant Protection Protocols: this is a start, but not suitable until they overhaul everything. Our federal government needs to take responsibility for the condition of the camps still in place, due to the number of migrants “waiting” or “unable” to try and claim asylum. Next, the Biden administration should utilize the Department of Homeland Security to intervene and remedy the conditions in these camps, so that the U.S. can ensure resources are available for migrants in transition. Guaranteeing these resources may include soliciting Mexican authorities to curb the destruction of the cartels, and ensure the safety of the people in waiting. Even if these camps are deemed “U.S. responsibility,” I’m personally satisfied with this. Consider what Kocher laments: “border cities were not equipped to house, feed, and protect tens of thousands of refugees.” Biden is not responsible for Trump’s maltreatment of migrants through his inhumane design; but, now, it’s his responsibility to resolve the calamity.
Secondarily, the administration will have to work to ensure the asylum-seekers are given a fair shot. The U.S. can’t expect all migrants to be able to hire representation to be granted asylum. While immigration judges should remain circumspect on certain individuals who may be trying to claim asylum for malignant purposes (like gangs or cartel members), the system is very much broken. We can’t have a variance between judges in certain states approving fewer cases, and then say, a state like California, approving more.
Lastly, as the Biden administration catches up on rebuilding a lawful system, we need to make sure we put an end to all these camps, which have done nothing but harm migrants and led to a critically significant human rights crisis. While there’s hope Biden can start to provide aid and guidance to mend the foundationally destructive policies in these Central American countries, we must still provide an outlet for those seeking refuge — especially if they were fortunate enough to survive the journey and seek a better future.
“The day before we decided to leave, a grenade exploded in front of our house; we were in the crossfire. We were just able to hide under our beds. I had videos from that shooting, but cartels have checkpoints where they take pictures of your ID and share it with a group to see if they can let you pass. Most men are blackmailed to join the cartels, so is more difficult for them to leave”.
For now, these asylum seekers are camping on the asphalt in the hope of getting into the U.S., but they must wait at least four months to have an appointment and initiate their process. According to the Municipal Department of Migrant Attention 25,000 asylum seekers will be re-accepted in Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana after this Biden program. (Carlos Iván Molina Aguilar).
There’s a lot of work to do, but the Biden administration will have to accelerate the process; for many, they don’t have the time to wait…
1. Aguilar Molina Iván, Carlos. “Inside the Biden migrant camp in Tijuana.” The San Diego Reader. March 9, 2021. https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2021/mar/09/stringers-inside-biden-migrant-camp-tijuana/. Accessed March 10, 2021.
2. Kocher, Austin. “Biden ends policy forcing asylum-seekers to ‘remain in Mexico’ — but for 41,247 migrants, it’s too late.” Theconversation.com. March 10, 2021. https://theconversation.com/biden-ends-policy-forcing-asylum-seekers-to-remain-in-mexico-but-for-41-247-migrants-its-too-late-156622. Accessed March 10, 2021.