Trump border policy has left thousands of migrants in limbo – now faced with violence, poverty and coronavirus

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  • The Migrant Protections Protocol, or MPP, forces more than 60,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico instead of the United States for asylum hearings.
  • Migrants are now stranded indefinitely in Mexico as the Trump administration closed the border to non-essential travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Gloria, a migrant who was abducted and extorted in Mexico, shares the painful experience of her family.
  • See more episodes of Business Insider Weekly on Facebook.

Gloria, her husband and three children have been hiding in a migrant shelter since July 2019, after being kidnapped and extorted by Mexican federal police.

They had traveled more than 2,000 miles from El Salvador to the United States border to seek asylum.

But a controversial Trump administration policy called the Migrant Protections Protocol, or MPP, forces them to wait in Mexico instead of the United States for their asylum hearings, even though Gloria told us that she was in danger because of what had happened to him in Ciudad Juarez.

“I felt horrible and thought, ‘No, it can’t be. I will return to the same place. I don’t want to, ” said Gloria, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her identity. “I was crying and my kids were saying to me, ‘Mom, what’s going on? And I said, “Look, kids, we’re going back to Mexico. »»

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has made the situation even more serious, as the Trump administration has closed the border to all non-essential travel. Gloria and some 60,000 people, mostly from Central America, are trapped indefinitely on the Mexican side of the border with limited access to food, shelter or American lawyers.

“Unfortunately, the United States government has really used the COVID-19 pandemic as a weapon against migrants,” Nicolas Palazzo, an immigration lawyer representing Gloria with the rights group Las Americas, told Business Insider. “We see him in detention centers, but we also see him on the other side of the border, where the government continues to refuse to allow vulnerable populations such as Gloria or others who are afraid for their lives to stay in Mexico. “”

The family of a migrant went through a painful trip to Juarez.

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For more than nine months, Gloria, her husband and three children have been housed in a small room in the Pan de Vida refuge in Ciudad Juárez. The family initially left El Salvador with $ 3,000 in savings, seeking to flee gang violence.

“We came here without knowing the way, risking everything and just trusting God,” said Gloria. “It was very difficult because we couldn’t get all the meals we needed. Sometimes we drove in a truck, sometimes on a bus, and we used GPS on my phone to guide us. Sometimes we slept on the street. “

After weeks on the road, when they arrived in Juárez, they were abducted by Mexican police, who offered to guide them to the border. Her children, aged 13, 8 and 4, were locked in a room and threatened.

“They didn’t let me see them before dark. They took them away very late, and I asked them why they were crying, and they said, “Mom, these officers are bad,” she said. »They do you? Why were you crying “Because they told us that we would never see you again because they could kill you or something, dad and you. »»

The family was not released until Gloria’s mother, who lives in Maryland, paid a ransom of $ 4,500.

Gloria is not alone. Along the US-Mexico border, human rights groups have followed more than 800 violent attacks on asylum seekers in the past year, including cases of murder, rape and kidnapping. But she was lucky because the refuge put her in touch with Palazzo.

Border lawyers are afraid for their lives.

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Meanwhile, lawyers who fight for migrants’ rights are often afraid for their lives as well.

Palazzo, a 35-year-old Harvard Law graduate, said he visits the Paso del Norte international bridge, which links El Paso to Juárez, two to three times a week, to meet with clients.

Juárez is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world, with more than 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018.

“So when you ask about the border situation, it’s deadly,” said Palazzo.

Taylor Levy, an immigration lawyer who has worked with migrants at the border for over 10 years, told us that she is still wary of moving to Juarez.

“There are a lot of cartel scouts hanging around the bridges, sometimes approaching us, talking to us and this worries a lot of lawyers for our safety,” she said.

Asylum seekers find it difficult to keep up with the evolution of American politics.

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Before the Trump administration’s MPP policy came into effect last year, asylum seekers would report to border patrol officers, who would detain them. They were treated and allowed to stay on American soil while awaiting asylum.

The data shows that 90% of the migrants waiting in the United States have appeared at the hearings. But now, stuck in Mexico, with little access to legal representation, only about half of the migrants go to their hearings.

Many asylum seekers, such as Valmir Elias Nanis, 38, of Brazil, find it difficult to keep up with the evolution of US immigration policies. Brazilians were previously exempt from the program because they do not speak Spanish, but the policy changed in January. The language barrier makes it even more difficult for them to find a lawyer.

“To my knowledge, there are no lawyers in this area who speak Portuguese and who work on MPP cases,” said Levy. There are no paralegals who speak Portuguese, which is very problematic. “

When we met Nanis on a cold February day, he told us that he had already been at the shelter for nine days and that everyone he had met pursued the American dream.

“My son, especially, he wants it even more than I do,” said Nanis. He is 7 years old. Today, he is 8 years old, here at the shelter. His dream was to see the United States. “

Valmir’s son is not alone – estimates show that almost a third of those caught in the crosshairs of MPP politics are children traveling with their parents.

On the other hand, children traveling alone are exempt from the MPP.

“We are seeing more and more parents making this horrible choice to send their children alone,” said Levy. “It is really horrible to watch, and it is the forced separation that is created by this administration. “

And many migrants are abandoning the American dream.

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Of the 60,000 migrants who were returned to Mexico under the MPP, less than 1% were granted asylum in the United States. This is why many migrants choose to return home rather than wait in Mexico.

Alex Rigol heads a United Nations program that helps migrants who want to return to their country of origin. The program, which is heavily funded by the United States Department of State, has been criticized for sending the migrants back in the dangerous conditions they fled in the first place. But Rigol insists that each case be carefully examined.

“The people we are sending back are people who are not afraid of persecution or fear in their country of origin,” he said.

Rigol added that migrants who are not aware of the United Nations program often find themselves at home in dangerous conditions.

“Many people are now paying coyotes or smugglers to return to their country, because now smugglers have seen returning or returning home as a new activity,” he said.

But some are still fighting for a future in the United States.

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Homeland security praised the MPP’s policy, calling it a game changer as apprehension at the borders has been decreasing every month since May 2019.

But critics and people working in government say the MPP is part of an effort to make seeking asylum in the United States increasingly difficult – a procedure that has been going on for years, both in books than outside.

The latest steps to close the border to vulnerable migrants during a pandemic are just another example, said Palazzo.

“This is a cruel and inhuman policy which deliberately uses a period of crisis to build a stronger and even stronger wall against the thousands of migrants who try to enter this country,” he said. .

Earlier this year, a federal court of appeal blocked MPP policy. Hundreds of migrants rushed to the border with high hopes. But the Trump administration won an emergency motion to keep the policy in place. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on its legality.

Meanwhile, Gloria and her family are still fighting for a future in the United States.

In February, they called for the third time to be removed from the “stay in Mexico” policy.

“I have to muster all the strength that I have and all the strength that I do not have because I cannot return to my country,” she said. “I have to keep fighting. “

We followed the family until their lawyer, Palazzo, handed them over to border patrol officers, halfway through Paso del Norte.

It was a tense and silent walk. A few hours later, they were interrogated by asylum officers behind closed doors. Within 24 hours of crossing the bridge, it was all over. Their request was rejected once again. No reason was given.

Their last asylum hearing took place in April 2021.

Despite the fear, they plan to wait in Mexico. But Gloria has a message for Trump.

“I would tell the president to take his hand in his heart and stop being so hard on immigrants, because not everyone wants the American dream, but we have to be there,” she said. “We need our children to be well, because most of the time we are fighting for our children. “

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