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New Asylum Rule Leaves Migrants In Tijuana Confused And Desperate

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Today is the day the Trump administration's new asylum ban at the southern border is scheduled to go into effect with only rare exceptions. Migrants will not be able to claim asylum in the U s if they've traveled through a so-called safe third country to get here. The La Times reports that documents have been swiftly distributed to u s asylum officers to try to explain the new rules just hours before they went into effect. The American Civil Liberties Union says it will file a lawsuit to try to stop the new policy. Meanwhile, the thousands of asylum seekers waiting into wanna remain in limbo. Journey. May is KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Adler who went to the Tijuana border this morning and Max, welcome. Good to be here. What was the scene like down there today? I mean, were people visibly upset about the changes?

Speaker 2: 00:50 The scene today was like the scene has been for much of the past few weeks were around 70 people waited online early at 6:00 AM for a chance to sign up for the list. This is the unofficial list that's kept in a book by migrants and overseen by Mexican authorities. That sets the waitlist for how long it's going to take for you to get one of the few spots to apply for asylum in the United States. Uh, so people were signing up early and that list is over 9,000 at this point. And people are facing a months long. Wait, the fact that now this new rule would bar many of them from even applying for asylum in the first place had not yet quite reverberated through the crowd. A lot of people are confused about the American asylum system to begin with. They don't know why they have to wait so many months to apply. Um, this policy was aimed at central Americans. Uh, this, this has been admitted by the Department of Homeland Security. However, uh, there's a lot of other people, especially at Tijuana who this applies to. You have Cameroonians Russians, Cubans, Haitians who are all getting online to apply for asylum. I spoke with one woman, Carla, who was from Venezuela and she said that she's been waiting around for months. Uh, she had seen in the news this headline about the new rule and she, she basically told me the following

Speaker 3: 02:18 [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible] [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 02:31 so she's talking about, you know, with this new law was to go into effect. She's been waiting for months that entire time and the time everybody else has been waiting would be lost. So we're beginning to see as, uh, the, the news trickles out, a sense of hopelessness and this is especially shared among the Cameroonian asylum seekers who have been waiting months and months and grown increasingly agitated as fewer and fewer people are being called off the list

Speaker 1: 02:55 now today, after days of silence, apparently as you say, this book containing names of migrants was taken out again and their numbers called for interviews. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 03:07 So four days had gone by between the numbers being called today, seven to eight names were called out that comprised around three separate numbers were called, each number contains 10 people, as has been the case for the book for several months. A lot of the names of people being called are not there either. They didn't show up in the morning or they found another way to claim asylum or they've gone home. Uh, so this was a subject of great interest. Everybody crowded around, it was really dramatic. You had a bullhorn, a, they literally held up the book so everybody can see it. And which names were being called. And you saw a family, a family of four with two young children being admitted as well as some single adults.

Speaker 1: 03:49 Okay, so do we know how this is going to work? In other words, we'll u s officials be telling these migrants who applied, tell them the new rules and them send them away. So in terms of

Speaker 2: 04:00 people waiting on the line, the u s does not acknowledge that there is a book or there is a wait or that anybody is, is spending time into Helena. That's not a policy that the u s kind of acknowledges is happening. Uh, so no one is going to go from the u s to everybody waiting for asylum and explain to them what's happening here and, and how they can no longer apply for asylum that might fall on the Mexican immigration authorities. But for the most part, they're just in the dark, as in the dark as the asylum seekers. So what will happen according to the rules given out to the asylum officers that, uh, the La Times and buzzfeed obtained is that they will be interviewing people at the ports of entry. Um, once they get through that line. And if they had gone through a third country that the u s deems as safe, which it looks as though they're using an expansive definition of safe, um, they will turn them back. And, you know, it's unclear whether it'll be on the spot. It's unclear how long that will take. And what's really unclear is, you know, people have expressed again and again the fear that they have of Mexico. Um, so, and of their home countries of course, cause they're fleeing, uh, for asylum. So are they then going to be detained and sent back to Guatemala or Honduras or are they going to be sent back to Mexico? This place that they're also expressing fear of?

Speaker 1: 05:17 And where does this new asylum regulation apply? Is this only at the southern border?

Speaker 2: 05:22 You're right now it applies only at the southern border, but it might be expanding in the coming weeks to include people who landed airports, people who obtain visas and and file an affirmative asylum claim. Um, you know, basically this, so up ends, American asylum law that um, the, the ways that it could be applied are, um, stunning, real hate to anybody who's followed immigration law over the past couple of years

Speaker 1: 05:47 with the new regulations to deny entry to asylum seeking migrants who have traveled through a third country. Apparently the asylum regulations themselves have been tightened.

Speaker 2: 05:58 Tell us about that. Yeah, so you need to pass a higher bar to a express what kind of fear you live in of your home country and why you're fleeing. Um, it's, it's really unclear exactly how these determinations are going to be made. There were spelled out in the guidance, but you know, you always have the opportunity to appeal that whether you're going to be deported before you have that opportunity, how long you have to appeal that, who you would talk to about that appeal. All of these things are still very much up in the air and underscores just how badly, um, just how difficult it is to follow through the US immigration system without legal assistance. And especially when something like this happens where even immigration lawyers are kind of throwing their hands up and going, how is this even gonna be applied? Even the asylum officers themselves have said, you know, this is being rushed and we haven't gotten correct training.

Speaker 2: 06:50 We've just gotten a memo that said, tells us what to do. And we still don't know whether that Acau lawsuit has been filed or not. We do not know at this point whether it's been filed or not. Of course the ACLU is ready to go, but a lot of times things need to be, in fact things need to be practiced. So it might be a case where they need to wait until somebody has actually been effectively denied and turned back. Or, um, you know, we could learn about, at any moment, I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, Max, Revlon, Nadler, and Max. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 4: 07:25 Wow.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.