One year ago, the Trump administration told the American people that its Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) would “provide a safer and more orderly process that will discourage individuals from attempting illegal entry and making false claims to stay in the U.S., and allow more resources to be dedicated to individuals who legitimately qualify for asylum.”
Today, it’s clear this deeply flawed policy has failed to deliver on that promise, and has instead put asylum seekers seeking safety in the United States — including children and families — at even greater risk of harm, including to human trafficking.
Since the implementation of the MPP, nearly 60,000 asylum seekers have been returned to some of the most dangerous border cities in Mexico. Families, including those with young children, are forced to wait in squalid conditions, vulnerable to the many criminal groups and human traffickers that prey upon them, as they await the chance to make their case in the United States. At least 636 cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, assault and other violence against families forced to face danger as a direct result of the MPP have been reported, but the true numbers are likely far higher.
2019 was Mexico’s most murderous year since it began tracking comprehensive data in 1997, with 35,588 homicide victims, including 1,006 women targeted because of their gender. More than 5,000 people were reported missing and never found. Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, municipalities on Mexico’s northern border where many migrants from the MPP are trapped, had the highest number of homicides in the country in 2018.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) visited Juarez, where many of the migrants are sent, last summer. Families, particularly children, were visibly suffering. We met a father and his 3-year-old son who were in a shelter after fleeing from Honduras, where they feared for their lives. The child was withdrawn and motionless, and he had nearly stopped eating. Under the MPP, the family was informed that they would have to wait almost six months before they would be permitted to see a U.S. immigration judge. We also met a mother with her 12-year-old son who fled severe gang violence in their home country. Having witnessed kidnapping, beatings and assault outside of the shelter, they were terrified to leave the shelter to buy food or water.
These families have made a nearly impossible calculation. In Central America, they face widespread gang and narco-trafficker violence, including rampant sexual and gender-based violence, for which the perpetrators enjoy near total impunity. Many of our clients describe these dangers in great detail and believe they face near certain death if they remain. On the brink of the U.S. border, they remain in a treacherous limbo. They try to maintain hope that they will one day be able to share their stories before a judge as they seek safety in the United States.
For those families who are eventually granted their day in court, they often face an unfair process. Most children and families do not have a lawyer to help them navigate the complex U.S. immigration system and are subsequently and, wrongly, returned to danger.
The MPP is a shameful blight on our country, and it sets a dangerous precedent for nations around the world. Prior to last year, our policy for almost five decades was to permit asylum seekers to stay in the United States while they prepared to appear in court. They had better access to lawyers and more adequate time to prepare their claims. The current approach bypasses these important protections, and there is no evidence to support claims that this makes the United States safer. We do know, however, that it makes children and families more vulnerable to violence just below our southern border. That is unacceptable, and it runs against all that our great nation stands for.
• Wendy Young is president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).