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Asylum-Seekers Almost Always Returned To Mexico, Even If They Express Fear

Above: 401 W. A Street in downtown San Diego, where immigration hearings are ...

Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Above: Above: 401 W. A Street in downtown San Diego, where immigration hearings are held, June 21, 2019.

Four days a week, Central American migrants are brought from Mexico to a nondescript office building in downtown San Diego for hearings in their pending asylum applications under the program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

During their hearings, the vast majority of them express fear of returning to Mexico, where they may have to stay for more than a year as they await their asylum ruling. So far, 14,000 migrants, nationwide, have been returned to Mexico under MPP since January.

A recent Reuters report found that only 1% of migrants who expressed fear of returning to Mexico were allowed to stay in the United States after their court hearing.

RELATED: Mexico Official Explains Why Returned Asylum-Seekers Will Be Accepted

“A major concern for people who have been returned is their immediate safety," said Kennji Kizuka, a lawyer for the organization Human Rights First. He’s spoken to asylum-seekers returned to Juarez, Calexico, and Tijuana.

"So people are staying many times in very informal shelters, in migrant hostels, some are sleeping on the streets. And they’re concerned that they’re likely to be kidnapped, to be extorted, to be robbed,”

Kizuka says that even though the Mexican government promised to provide work visas for migrants as they wait for their day in court, he has yet to meet or hear of anyone who has been given one.

“No one is able to work formally, they don’t have access to health care through the Mexican government, their children aren’t enrolled in school, and many of them will be waiting many, many months to present their asylum application while living in Mexico under these conditions, which are really unsustainable,” Kizuka said.

Some migrants have been given initial court appearances as far out as July of 2020. In addition, Kizuka says that there are some migrants who are being picked up by Border Patrol in Texas, flown to San Diego for processing, and then returned to Tijuana to wait out their immigration court case.

The MPP program is being currently being challenged in court. Briefings are being prepared in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and arguments on the program are not expected until this fall.

As part of a deal between the Mexican and U.S. governments reached earlier this month, the program will be expanded. Mexico has said it expects up to 60,000 migrants to be returned over the course of this summer.

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