EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — A year after the Trump administration sent the first asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their next court date, immigrant advocates and some lawmakers renewed calls for termination of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.
In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, 23 nonprofits from across the country urged him to halt the program and tell immigration officers to comply with U.S. asylum laws and international treaties.
“We urge the immediate termination of this harmful and illegal policy,” the letter says. “Day in and day out we learn of horrifying accounts of kidnappings, assaults, trafficking and other attacks on asylum seekers waiting in Mexico. Over 800 cases of kidnappings and other attacks have been tracked by Human Rights First and others, but we know the actual number is much larger.”
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, called the MPP program “abhorrent” and is pushing legislation to defund it. She said more than 18,000 asylum seekers from the El Paso district she represents have been sent to Juarez, Mexico, to wait for months in precarious and dangerous conditions.
“A number of you joined me last July when we crossed the border to visit with some of the families impacted by the program. We heard of their journey and the dangers they face if they return home and what it takes to survive day to day in Mexico,” Escobar said Wednesday on the floor of the House.
“This Administration is making it as hard as possible for these families to obtain asylum in an effort to deter them from coming to the U.S. in the first place because cruelty is the point.”
Wolf defended the program when he visited El Paso late last year and said it played a crucial role in stopping the migrant wave that sent apprehensions skyrocketing and led to overcrowding at processing and detention centers. This, in turn, prompted migrant advocates to allege abuse, neglect and shortcomings at the centers.
“It’s one of our most successful initiatives. As I walk around and talk to the great men and women of Border Patrol and OFO, (I see) it’s critical to what they do each and every day to both control the flow and end catch-and-release,” Wolf said in El Paso.
“More importantly, it allows us to provide these individuals expedited progress for their immigration procedures. With MPP we’re able to give them procedures in a matter of months that normally take years if they were in the interior. It also helps us root out a number of fraud in the system. From my perspective and the perspective of men and women on the ground and everyone else I talk to at DHS, it’s been an absolutely critical program.”
In an article last week, the conservative Center for Immigration Studies said President Trump in late 2018 set in motion a “cocktail of diplomatic and illegal-immigration control policies” to end an “epic” flood of economic migrants from Central America. Nearly a million unauthorized migrants were taken into custody at the U.S. border in fiscal year 2019.
“It should now be openly declared […] that President Trump can be credited with ending the mass illegal migration crisis of 2018-2019 on his volition and without the currently irascible, divided U.S. Congress,” the article states.
The migrants advocates emphatically differ.
“Far from being a success, this program is a humanitarian, legal and due-process catastrophe. It terrorizes asylum seekers […] and ensures that many refugees eligible for asylum will be denied protection,” their letter says.
At the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, whose staff has tried to help families fleeing violence and other hardships establish a claim, the anniversary was met with a sense of resignation and inevitability.
“The reality is that the program in many ways is working as it was designed, pushing asylum so far out of reach for so many people who have the legal right to seek it,” said Marisa Limon, deputy director of the Institute.
The organization on Wednesday published a report detailing MPP’s legal and humanitarian shortcomings. “Remain in Mexico was not designed to protect migrants, but to deter them through cruelty,” the report says.