EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The Trump administration has expanded the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program to Arizona, a move that advocates say will keep asylum seekers 370 miles from their court dates in El Paso.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Thursday sent the first 30 migrants from facilities in Arizona to Nogales, Sonora. Mexican authorities took those individuals and family units to the San Juan Bosco shelter, said Juan Franscisco Loueiro Esquer, the shelter’s legal counsel.
Before this week’s expansion of MPP, the federal agency was busing asylum seekers surrendering in Arizona to facilities in El Paso. From there, the migrants were turned over to Mexican authorities in Juarez and expected to wait there for their day in court.
“It is my understanding that all have court dates in El Paso,” Loueiro said of the migrants who arrived at his shelter on Thursday. Asked how those migrants would make their way to their court dates in Texas, he said, “I don’t know.”
Loueiro added that Mexican authorities told him to expect 30 additional migrants on the MPP program daily. The shelter currently holds some 200 people — from Central-American and Mexican families seeking asylum due to violent crimes in their communities to Mexican males routinely deported from the interior of the United States. He said the shelter could accommodate up to 300 migrants at a time or, in a pinch, maybe 350.
In a news release issued Thursday, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the MPP program has been instrumental in dealing with the migrant surge that began in late 2018. The program as of Thursday operates in seven cities: San Diego and Calexico in California; Nogales, in Arizona; and El Paso, Laredo, Brownsville and Eagle Pass in Texas.
“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,” Wolf said. “… I am confident in the program’s continued success in adjudicating meritorious cases quickly and preventing fraudulent claims.”
So far, some 56,000 asylum seekers have been placed on the MPP program, also known as “Remain in Mexico.” Some have been given court dates several months away. Of those whose cases already have been heard and decided in El Paso, 96.6% have been denied, according to ongoing lawsuits by advocacy groups.
Nonprofits who help asylum seekers prepare their cases have long complained that the MPP program exposes migrants to crime in dangerous Mexican cities. Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, noted that gun battles raged on the streets on Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, just hours before Wolf’s announcement.
“We have seen that type of violence in Juarez as well. Not only is the Trump administration making the process more difficult for them, but it’s also placing these asylum seekers in imminent danger. It’s been documented that many already have been victims of violence,” he said.
Garcia added that he sees no justification for the MPP program other than to make the asylum process so difficult for applicants that they will give up on the process.
Marisa Limon Garza, deputy director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, worries about how the migrants sent over to Nogales will make it to Juarez, then to El Paso for their court dates. Not only is there an issue of resources for transportation, but one of safety as well.
The Sonora-Chihuahua corridor is being disputed by the Sinaloa cartel and La Linea drug trafficking organization. On Nov. 4, one of those groups massacred three women and six children — all of them American citizens — who were driving on a highway southeast of Agua Prieta, Sonora.
“There is no end in sight to what this administration can do, sending people to perilous conditions then asking them to traverse all these miles between locations. … The amount of challenges they will face is horrific,” she said, adding that if the asylum seeker misses a court date, he or she is subject to deportation in absentia.
“To me it is further deterrence or cruelty. I don’t want to say it’s going to be a death sentence for a lot of people, but it very well could be,” Limon said. “So we’re going to continue to see a downward decline, a virtual end to asylum.”
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