In Tijuana, desperate asylum seekers prepare for the return of ‘Remain in Mexico’
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In February, the Biden administration began winding down. Former president Donald Trump's controversial remain in Mexico program. The program sent people seeking asylum in this country back to Mexico to wait four months for their day in immigration court in the us. But over the summer, a Texas judge ordered government officials to restart the program. Now, the bond administration is preparing to roll it back out in the coming weeks. Reporter max Rivlin Nadler tells us migrants and their advocates into one are a split about what to do.
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Sean tall is a 23 year old transgender woman. She has been living in a crowded migrant encampment and Tijuana for a month sitting on a wall near her tent. She tells me she fled Honduras two years ago after she was kicked out of her home by her father and leader beaten on the streets because of her gender identity. She has family in the United States, but that's not why she's trying to get there.
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She says they're very religious and won't accept her in Mexico. She says she was briefly abducted by a gang and has been beaten up on the streets of Tijuana
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She says it's just as dangerous to be waiting in Mexico as it was living in Honduras. She's been trying to enter the United States for months to claim asylum. And each time she's been turned back because of a us policy known as title 42, that blocks almost all people from crossing the border during the pandemic. But Shantelle is still trying to find a safe way to seek refuge in the U S which you might get is the resumption of one of the most dangerous policies of the Trump administration for over a year before the pandemic, more than 60,000 migrants were placed and remain in Mexico, officially known as the migrant protection protocols, but the group human rights first counted more than 1500 reports of rape murder, and other violence against asylum seekers. In the program,
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We are living in conditions that are best described like a prolonged episode of the hunger games while trying to fight their case.
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That's Nicole Ramos. She's a lawyer with outro lotto. One of the few groups that provides legal services to migrants in Tijuana, waiting in Mexico border cities is not only dangerous C says, but it makes it almost impossible to find a U S lawyer and less than 1% of migrants actually won their asylum case. While enrolled in remain in Mexico, the Biden administration asked Ramos's organization, along with others to help humanely reimplement remain in Mexico. They refused.
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We are not going to touch that program. We feel like our resources are better used conducting human rights monitoring and interviews, and looking at ways
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To destroy the program while the Biden administration agrees. It should end the court order to reinstate. It has officials negotiating with the Mexican government to resume the program in the next few weeks. And lawyers in San Diego say they've been told that immigration judges and courtrooms are already prepared. Kate Clark, lawyer, Jewish family service in San Diego says this leaves legal service providers in a difficult spot.
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You can't make an inhumane program humane that's the Heartland,
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But once migrants are placed in remained in Mexico, she says there are a few ways. Lawyers can try to get them out of the program and into the U S to continue their asylum case.
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We're involved with submitting pro requests. That's sort of, um, for us to consider
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At the Casa Del Migrante shelter on a hill beside the Tijuana river, Kathy Krueger assists migrants each day, if people are placed in remain in Mexico, she will provide them with legal assistance because she knows their options are limited.
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So you want to do it. You just have to try to facilitate them for a smooth way of doing it. Everything that they went through, made them take that decision
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At the migrant and Cameron, just feet away from the border wall. Sean Paul and others feel that time is running out. There are plans to close the camp in the coming weeks. Shantelle says she needs to take a step any step to begin her asylum claim. [inaudible]
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If there is a chance at asylum in the U S even a slim one, she has to take it. She shows me a photo on her phone with how she feels most comfortable Wearing makeup, a long dress, a completely different look, but here she's in a sweatshirt and jeans trying to keep a low profile. She knew it was entering the remain in Mexico program. Won't get her out of Tijuana immediately, but it may be the only concrete step she has right now.
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And that was max Rivlin Nadler reporting for the California report in Tijuana
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Perched on a wall near her tent, just feet from the border wall separating Tijuana and San Diego, Chantal said she fled Honduras two years ago because she was kicked out of her home by her father and later beaten on the streets because of her gender identity.
The 23-year-old transgender woman, who wouldn’t give her full name because she’s afraid of being tracked down by Honduran gangs, has been living in a crowded migrant encampment in Tijuana for a month. And she’s intent on seeking asylum in the United States. She said she has family in the U.S., but that’s not why she’s trying to get there.
“They don’t approve of me either, because they’re very Christian,” she said, explaining that her gender identity isn’t in line with their beliefs.
In Mexico, Chantal said she was briefly abducted by a gang and has been beaten up on the streets of Tijuana.
“It’s very dangerous to be waiting in Mexico, just as dangerous as it was living in Honduras,” she said.
During that time, the group Human Rights First counted more than 1,500 reports of rape, murder, and other violence against asylum seekers in the program.
“People are living in conditions that are best described as prolonged episodes of The Hunger Games, while trying to fight their case,” said Nicole Ramos, a lawyer with Al Otro Lado, one of the few groups that provides legal services to migrants in Tijuana.
Waiting in Mexican border cities is not only dangerous, she said, but makes it almost impossible to find legal representation in the United States. Only 7% of MPP asylum-seekers had a lawyer. As a result, less than 1% of migrants actually won their asylum cases while enrolled in “Remain in Mexico.” By contrast, closer to a third of asylum seekers overall won their cases during the same period.
President Joe Biden campaigned on ending the MPP program and in June his Secretary of Homeland Security issued a memo rescinding the program.
Several states, including Texas, challenged the rescission in federal court. And in August, a Trump-appointed federal judge sided with the states and ordered the Biden administration to restart the program as soon as possible. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene, allowing the Texas ruling to go into effect.
While the Biden administration continues trying to terminate the program in a way that will satisfy the courts, Homeland Security officials are also taking steps to re-implement “Remain in Mexico,” as ordered.
Last month, in an attempt to make the program as humane as possible, they convened a meeting with Al Otro Lado and other immigrant legal aid groups and asked them to provide assistance to asylum seekers in MPP. The organizations refused and walked out of the meeting.
“We are not going to touch that program,” Ramos said. “We feel like our resources are better used conducting human rights monitoring and interviews … and looking at ways to destroy the program.”
Federal officials, meanwhile, have been negotiating with the Mexican government to resume receiving migrants under MPP in the next few weeks.
Lawyers in San Diego say they’ve been told by federal officials that immigration judges have been designated and courtrooms have already been set aside.
Kate Clark, the lead immigration attorney with Jewish Family Service of San Diego, said the resumption of a program they oppose leaves legal service providers in a difficult spot.
“You can’t make an inhumane program humane,” she said. “That’s the hard line for us.”
But there may be ways her organization will get involved to help asylum seekers who end up in the program. Once migrants are placed in Remain in Mexico, she said, there are a few things lawyers can try to get them out of the program and into the U.S., in spite of Title 42, to continue their asylum cases from a safer location.
“Whether in the future we’re involved with submitting parole requests … that’s something for us to consider,” Clark said.
"People are living in conditions that are best described as prolonged episodes of The Hunger Games, while trying to fight their case."
At the Casa Del Migrante shelter that sits on a hill beside the Tijuana River, lawyer Kathy Kruger said she will provide people with legal assistance if they are placed in Remain in Mexico. She works with migrants each day and she knows their options are limited, and, she said, over the past two years, they’ve been given a lot of false hope about the asylum system along the border.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration began allowing people who had been in the original Remain in Mexico program to enter the U.S. and continue pursuing asylum from there. That approach ended with the Texas judge’s ruling this summer.
Now, with Title 42, the public health policy, still blocking would-be asylum seekers from getting across the border, Kruger said she understands that some migrants may see a renewed Remain in Mexico program as their only hope to eventually win protection in the U.S.
“If they still want to do it, you just have to try to facilitate them for a smooth way of doing it,” Kruger said. “Everything that they went through made them take that decision.”
At the Tijuana migrant encampment, Chantal and others feel time is running out. There are plans to close the camp in the coming weeks and a fence has been built around it, meaning that no new migrants can enter the encampment, which has existed since February.
Chantal said she needs to take a step, any step, to begin her asylum claim.
“If there’s asylum in the United States, then I have to ask for it,” she said.
She pulls out her phone to show me what she looks like when she feels most comfortable. In the photo, she’s wearing make-up and a long dress. In Mexico, though, she’s sticking to a sweatshirt and jeans, and just a little eye shadow, trying to keep a low profile and avoid being attacked.
“I want to dress like a woman, but I can’t here,” she said.
She knows that entering the Remain in Mexico program won’t get her out of Tijuana immediately, but it may be the only concrete step she has right now.
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