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ACLU: Supreme Court Ruling Puts Asylum-Seekers In Danger

Asylum-seekers from Cameroon and Eritrea protest Mexican immigration authorities in Tijuana, July 9, 2019.
Max Rivlin-Nadler
Asylum-seekers from Cameroon and Eritrea protest Mexican immigration authorities in Tijuana, July 9, 2019.

Tijuana is home to thousands of migrants waiting to ask for asylum in the United States.

Now many of them will be turned back after the Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted an injunction on a new Trump administration policy. That policy requires migrants arriving at the southern border to first apply for asylum in a country they traveled through to get here.

Anthony Pinera, 23, arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry Wednesday morning. This has been his routine for four months and 11 days, as he waits for his number to be called by U.S. authorities so that he can begin the asylum process.


He left El Salvador because he said as a young man, he was a target of gangs. He desperately wants to ask for asylum in the U.S.

“America is a free country. It’s a country of opportunities. It’s a country of laws. It’s a country that has respect for who you are,” Pinera told KPBS in Spanish.

Video: Asylum Seekers React To Supreme Court Allowing Broad Enforcement Of Trump Asylum Rule

Asked about Wednesday night’s Supreme Court ruling, Pinera said that he wouldn’t even think about applying for asylum in any of the countries he passed through.

“All of Central America is the same. It’s the worst. Mexico. How many have been murdered? Same as Central America. And South America too, we can’t go,” he said.

On Wednesday, he brought his three bags of luggage, knowing his number would be up soon. Shortly after 8 a.m., his number was finally called. Pinera crossed the border Thursday morning, hopeful and excited.


But under the new rule, he will most likely be barred from declaring asylum and deported back to El Salvador. The policy is one in a series of measures aimed to slow the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“[The policy] will give us the ability to, first of all, deter some people coming with asylum claims which is which is part of the intention,” Ken Cuccinelli, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Wednesday.

The new asylum policy still faces ongoing legal challenges and might eventually be struck down.

But in the meantime, Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the policy will still put thousands of migrants at risk in the meantime.

“We’re not going to sugarcoat it. This is definitely a step back and we think lots of people will be put in danger while we continue to litigate this. But we have no choice but to push forward,” Gelernt said.

And it’s not just Central Americans who will be affected.

RELATED: San Diego Immigration Courts Lead Nation In Returning Asylum-Seekers To Mexico

For months, thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia and elsewhere have arrived in Tijuana after flying to South America and traveling over land to the southern border.

Alfred, who asked we not share his last name out of fear of being targeted by gangs in Mexico, has been waiting in Tijuana for more than two months.

He fled Cameroon because of its ongoing political crisis.

“I passed through Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Ethiopia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico,” he told KPBS, haphazardly listing the country’s he passed through.

Alfred will now have to apply for asylum in one of those countries, and be denied there, to be considered for asylum in the United States.

So would he consider going back to one of them to ask for asylum?

“Not at all. Asylum is where you think you have security,” he said.

Alfred is determined to stay in Tijuana and wait for as long as it takes for his number to be called so he can ask for asylum in the U.S. He has heard a lot about changing immigration policy in the U.S. and hopes this new policy doesn’t stand.

“I will still have to try. I will try. The U.S. is the most safe place for me,” he said.

Litigation over the rule is expected to stretch well into next year, and possibly even to the next presidential term. Arguments regarding the rule are currently scheduled for December in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

ACLU: Supreme Court Ruling Puts Asylum-Seekers In Danger
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.