Luisa and her 3-year-old son fled Honduras together to come to the United States to ask for asylum; now they have to choose between a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. After presenting at the US port of entry in El Paso, they were interviewed by US border officials and then turned around and told to wait back in Juárez, Mexico, as their case proceeded, without them, in the United States. They found temporary space at a shelter, but when Luisa returned to El Paso for a preliminary hearing, she and her son lost their space in their shelter and were forced to make do on the streets. Since then, Luisa has been occasionally able to pool enough money, along with a group of other women with young children, to pay for a night in a hotel, but sometimes that means there’s not enough to eat. “I prefer to have a roof over our heads than to wander the streets,” Luisa says. But now her money is running out, and her options are dwindling.
Luisa’s plight is a direct result of the Migrant Protection Protocols—commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” policy that the Trump administration first enacted in Tijuana in January and has since rolled out to other Mexican border cities. The protocols take the administration’s anti-asylum crackdown to a new level: returning mostly Central American asylum seekers to Mexican border towns as they await their US asylum cases. MPP is at best a deterrent mechanism, at worst an evisceration of international asylum obligations, and the administration is using it to try to convince Central American asylum seekers approaching the US-Mexico border that the journey, and now the long and dangerous wait in Mexico, isn’t worth it. Forcing migrants to hang tight as their cases slog through the morass of US immigration courts in notoriously dangerous Mexican border towns—without sufficient services, and where they fall prey to extortion, kidnapping, rape, and murder—does the opposite of protecting migrants. According to a new report from Human Rights Watch, “We Can’t Help You Here,” MPP seems designed to strip asylum seekers of almost all protections and put them directly into harm’s way.