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New Asylum Rule Leaves Migrants In Tijuana Confused And Desperate

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

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Asylum-seekers in Tijuana expressed a mix of frustration and desperation over a new Trump administration rule that would bar most of them from declaring asylum in the United States.

Aired: July 16, 2019 | Transcript

Asylum-seekers in Tijuana expressed a mix of frustration and desperation over a new Trump administration rule that would bar most of them from declaring asylum in the United States.

The new rule, which went into effect Tuesday, dictates that they would first have to apply for asylum in a country they’ve transited through on the way to the United States before they apply for asylum in the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the new rule in court.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler

A little before 6 a.m., migrants began lining at the San Ysidro port of up for an unofficial list that holds their spot for the few admissions the U.S. accepts for asylum processing every month. Some people had been waiting for months for their number to be called.

Reported by L. Matthew Bowler

RELATED: Trump's New Asylum Rules Go Into Effect, And Opponents Sue

Carla, who only gave her first name, had been waiting for four months in Tijuana with her five-year-old son. She’s seeking asylum from Venezuela and had flown to Mexico. Because her number was so close to being called, she arrived with her suitcases, which she had brought with her for the past several days. The new rule would prevent her from applying for asylum in the U.S. without first applying in Mexico.

“Everyone here has had a hard time, stuck here for one month, two months, four or five months. If the law doesn't say one way or the other, then its lost time,” Carla said in Spanish.

One asylum-seeker from Eritrea explained his four-month trip to the border in Tijuana. He went from Eritrea to Turkey and then Colombia, through the jungle into Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, and finally to Mexico. He had already spent over a month in Tijuana and shook his head about the new rule.

Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Two asylum-seekers from Cameroon hold out their numbers holding their spot on the unofficial list of asylum-seekers on July 16, 2019.

RELATED: Waitlist For Asylum-Seekers In Tijuana Now At Its Highest Number Ever

“The jungle was only four days, man. This is the real jungle,” he told me. He explained how he had been confronted multiple times by police in Tijuana asking for bribes because his travel visa had expired while he was waiting for his number to be called.

After four days of no new numbers being called, the migrants put in charge of the list by Mexican authorities for the day announced that they were, in fact, letting some people through. Seven to eight people were allowed in, but what happens to them next remains to be seen.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services leadership gave asylum officials some written guidance, which was obtained by NPR. It says any migrant that does not prove “that he or she applied for protection from persecution or torture in at least one country outside his or her country of nationality” will be ineligible for asylum.

RELATED: Trump Moves To Effectively End Asylum At Southern Border

How long this process takes and whether the people taken to the U.S. Tuesday will be deemed ineligible for asylum and returned to their home countries or Mexico, is also unknown at this time.

Still, this hasn’t deterred anyone from signing up for the waitlist, even as the waits become longer and the opportunities for asylum narrower and narrower. After signing up, two men who had just finished the trip from Cameroon the day before showed me their number, 3,673. That means that almost a thousand people were in front of them.

Still, they remained undaunted. They told me they were going to go to a hotel near the beach and try to finally get some rest.

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