Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigators have identified 32 separate instances of kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of asylum seekers in two Mexican cities where they were returned by U.S. authorities to await hearings under the “Remain in Mexico” program.
According to an HRW report, these cases reflect widespread dangers faced by would be immigrants and their families, and underline the “failure” of the program to protect individuals who may have legitimate reasons to seek sanctuary in the U.S.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has placed more than 69,000 people in its “Remain in Mexico” program since January 2019. Under the program, formally known as the “Migration Protection Protocols” (MPP), people seeking asylum have to wait in Mexico and return periodically to the U.S. for immigration court hearings
“The program is anything but protective,” charged HRW. “It has sent people to some of Mexico’s most dangerous cities and needlessly and foreseeably exposed them to considerable risk of serious harm.
“People interviewed for this report, including children, described rape or attempted rape and other sexual assault, abduction for ransom, extortion, armed robbery, and other crimes committed against them.
“In many cases, their attackers targeted them as they arrived in Mexico after their initial placement in the MPP or on their way back from court hearings, or as they left the migrant shelters where they stayed. In some cases, Mexican immigration officers or police committed these crimes.”
HRW researchers said they repeatedly were told of cases where asylum seekers were subjected to attacks by members of crime cartels or acts of extortion by Mexican officials.
The cases identified in Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo between November 2019 and January 2020 included at least 38 children, HRW said.
It also cited figures provided by Human Rights First, a nongovernmental human rights organization, which tracked more than 1,100 reported cases of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture, and assault of people sent to Mexico under the MPP.
HRW called on the incoming government of President-elect Joe Biden to restore the previous protections for asylum seekers.
“The incoming administration should acknowledge that the MPP is an abject failure by the United States to uphold the right to seek asylum and to afford protection to people seeking safety,” HRW said.
“The severe harms the MPP has inflicted on tens of thousands of people cannot be wholly undone, but U.S. efforts to reverse the program should put people in a position as close as possible to the situation they would have been in if they had not been sent to Mexico.”
The full report can be downloaded here.