By MARIA VERZA and BEN FOX Associated Press
A US border patrol officer would not let Jackeline Reyes explain why she and her 15-year-old daughter fled Honduras and were in need of asylum, pointing to the coronavirus. It was only a few days after the Trump administration virtually shut down the country’s asylum system.
“The agent told us about the virus and that we couldn’t go any further, but she didn’t let us speak or anything,” said Reyes, 35, who commuted on 24 March in Reynosa, Mexico, a violent border town.
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President Donald Trump’s administration is based on a rarely used public health law to set aside decades-old national and international immigration laws. Those seeking refuge in the United States are taken to the nearest border post and returned to Mexico with no possibility of seeking asylum. It is perhaps the most aggressive crackdown on immigration by a president who has made reducing asylum claims a top priority.
US customs and border protection said Thursday that nearly 10,000 Mexicans and Central Americans have been “deported” to Mexico since the rules came into effect on March 21. Mark Morgan, the agency’s acting commissioner, said the changes were not about “immigration.”
“What is happening right now is a public health crisis caused by a global pandemic, which has resulted in a national emergency declared by this president to protect the health and safety of all Americans in this country,” said he told reporters.
Mexico is providing essential support, agreeing to welcome migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, who accounted for well over half of all arrests at the US border last year.
The Trump administration has provided few details on the rules, which have not been challenged in court. The lack of detail means the change received little attention when it was made public on March 20, the same day, Trump announced at a press conference that the southern border is closed to non-essential travel.
The administration used a law authorizing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ban foreigners if their entry created “serious danger” to the spread of communicable diseases. The United States has by far the most confirmed cases in the world. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a 30-day prescription and said he could extend it.
“The administration is capable of doing what it has always wanted to do,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, political advisor to the United States Immigration Council, who criticized the administration. “I don’t see it slowing down. “
Mexico has said it will not accept unaccompanied children and other “vulnerable people”. Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Mexican consul general in San Diego, said that this includes people over 65, pregnant or sick.
The United States is also removing children from Central America who travel with their grandparents, siblings and other relatives, said a congressional assistant who was briefed by customs and protection officials. borders and spoke on condition of anonymity as the information was not intended to be made public. Previously, children who were not with their parents or guardians were considered unaccompanied and automatically placed in the asylum pipeline.
The health risks associated with the detention of migrants in overcrowded spaces such as border patrol posts are “the touchstone of this order,” Redfield wrote. He said exceptions to the immediate expulsion of someone can be considered but have not been worked out.
“If someone is deemed to have the appropriate level of fear, they will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” said acting Morgan, CBP chief, on Thursday.
Internal border patrol note obtained by ProPublica provides details on exemptions: officer who determines that migrant claims “reasonably credible” fear of torture may be removed for further review under the Convention of Nations United against torture, a lesser form of asylum that is more difficult to qualify.
Matthew Dyman, a CBP spokesperson, declined to comment on the memo this week.
“Obtaining and publishing leaked information is a great way to degrade trust and communication between CBP and the media,” he said.
According to the rules, agents take migrants to the nearest border post in specially designated vehicles and avoid stations, thereby minimizing the risk of exposure to the virus. Those who are not sent to Mexico are flown to their country of origin.
CBP said it had fewer than 100 people in police custody, down from a peak of more than 19,000 in last year’s border crossing wave. In the first 11 days of the new rules, 6,375 people were deported to the Mexican border and 20 to the Canadian border.
Ten Senate Democrats have sent a letter to the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, who oversees border agencies, saying that the Trump administration appears to have “given itself wide powers to summarily expel an unknown large number of people arriving at our border. “
“A public health crisis does not give the executive a free pass to violate constitutional rights, nor does it give the executive the permission to operate outside the law,” they wrote on Tuesday.
For Reyes and the others sent to Mexico, they don’t know what to do next. She tried to return home to Honduras despite the fact that her brother was killed there and her mother and 7-year-old daughter fled to the Nicaraguan border, but she is trapped in Mexico as the virus closed its borders in Central America.
Reyes said she joined dozens of people who illegally entered the Guatemalan mountains in an attempt to reach Honduras, but was arrested by soldiers and returned to Mexico, where she was quarantined in a refuge for migrants.
Four adults and seven children expelled from Texas have also crossed the mountains and are now hiding in a house in Guatemala due to a curfew linked to the virus.
“We already want to leave, but I don’t know who can help us,” said Fanny Jaqueline Ortiz of Honduras, who was with her daughters, 12 and 3 years old. “There is no transport, no bus, nothing. “
Many Mexican shelters have closed, leaving many stranded in violent cities or dependent on relatives in the United States to send money.
Trump’s previous policies were aimed at asylum, but have continued to suspend it completely, recognizing that the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention provided refuge for internally displaced persons and a 1980 US law that established the refugee system. ‘asylum.
Verza reported from Mexico City and Fox from Washington. Associated Press journalists Astrid Galvan, Nomaan Merchant and Elliot Spagat contributed to this report.