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Asylum-Seeker Sent Back To Mexico Is Killed In Tijuana

A migrant calls out numbers from the unofficial list of asylum-seekers in Tij...

Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Above: A migrant calls out numbers from the unofficial list of asylum-seekers in Tijuana on July 16, 2019

A 35-year old Salvadoran man, who was sent back to Mexico after seeking asylum in the US, was killed in Tijuana in late November.

The 35-year-old had applied for asylum in September with his wife and two children after waiting months in Tijuana under the “metering” system, which limits the processing of asylum-seekers. KPBS is not publishing the family's name for their safety.

They were sent back to Mexico under the controversial “Remain-in-Mexico” program, which makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed.

On Oct. 1, while appearing for court in San Diego, they pleaded with the judge not to return them to Mexico. They said they feared for their lives because of the dangerous neighborhood they lived in. The Department of Homeland Security returned them to Mexico anyway.

In mid-November, the father, who was working for a pizza place in the Zona Norte neighborhood where they lived, went out to work and never came home. His wife identified his dismembered body two days later.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Matthew Bowler

"We have people, well-trained, are implementing a policy that’s designed to send people back, regardless if they’re in harm’s way," said Richard Sterger, the immigration attorney for his wife and children.

The man’s wife got a death certificate and then told American authorities her husband had been murdered, according to Sterger. She and her children were processed and taken out of the "Remain-in-Mexico" program.

Photo credit: Secretaria de Salud

The asylum-seeker's death certificate obtained by KPBS on Dec. 13, 2019, shows the man was stabbed multiple times and his body had been dismembered.

Sterger represented the remaining family members on Wednesday, as they changed their immigration court venue to San Francisco, where they can stay with family members.

The U.S. government has argued that the migrants are being protected by the Mexican government. Sterger says that’s just not true.

"It’s not protecting the principle, due process. It’s not protecting the standards of the constitution, the things that we’re supposed to hold high and places us morally in the high ground," Sterger said.

While this is the first confirmed death of an asylum-seeker returned to Tijuana, human rights groups monitoring the situation do not believe it’s the first. The non-profit Human Rights First has found 400 public reports of rape, torture, kidnapping and other violence against the over fifty-thousand asylum-seekers who have been returned to Mexico since last February

The "Remain-in-Mexico" program is currently being challenged in court. The Ninth Circuit is set to rule on its legality in California and New Mexico in the coming weeks.

For Sterger’s clients, this decision is already too late.

"These people came and they asked us to be safe. And we told them, you will be safe in Tijuana while you await," he said.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.


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