A family from Honduras, center, waits to be received at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, in April 2018. The couple said they planned to seek asylum in the United States because of increased violence in Central America. / Photo by David Maung

The Trump administration’s so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy recently passed the one-year mark in San Diego, where it was first implemented. Officially called the Migration Protection Protocols, or MPP, the policy has completely transformed the U.S. asylum system at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The first person returned to Mexico, a Honduran man, went to Tijuana on Jan. 29, 2019, and we still don’t know the final outcome of his case, the Union-Tribune reported. Initially the program required Central Americans who requested asylum at ports of entry to wait in Mexico while their cases proceeded in the United States, but was expanded to those who entered the country illegally. The program has continued to expand. It now includes families and is in effect at seven different ports of entry across California, Texas and Arizona. It was also expanded to apply to other nationalities — including Cubans and Brazilians.

Since that first Honduran man was sent back to Mexico, more than 57,000 asylum-seekers have followed, the Union-Tribune reports.

On the one-year anniversary of the program, immigration lawyers and advocates gathered in San Diego to call for its end, KPBS reports.

“If the program was designed to protect migrants and prevent human trafficking, we would not be sending asylum-seekers back to one of the most dangerous cities in the world,” said Nicole Ramos, the director of the Border Rights Project at El Otro Lado, which provides legal assistance to asylum-seekers in Tijuana.

report from the advocacy group Human Rights First found that more than 800 people sent back to Mexico have been murdered, tortured or attacked while waiting for a court hearing. Only a couple of cases in which migrants actually won asylum under the policy are publicly known. Data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a think tank at Syracuse University, showed that from January to June, only 14 of the 1,155 MPP asylum cases decided in that window had legal representation.

Many officials have warned that the Trump administration has violated the law by forcing asylum seekers back to Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reported, and some asylum officers, who are on the front lines implementing the program, have been revolting and speaking out against the policy.

There’s also been a series of logistical and bureaucratic nightmares that have come with the policy. Asylum-seekers who won their cases or had their cases terminated were sometimes sent back. The Union-Tribune found that Customs and Border Patrol agents were using fake court dates to send migrants with completed court cases back to Mexico.

Even immigration judges have started criticizing the policy because of the chaos it has caused in their courtrooms. A Mother Jones reporter recently documented a few days’ worth of the MPP hearings in San Diego’s immigration courts. The reporter wrote that she was surprised at how fed up immigration judges “were by the MPP-driven speedup — and by the extent to which their hands were tied to do anything about it.”

Remain in Mexico, in concert with other Trump administration policies, has significantly impacted border apprehensions, which are often used as a proxy for how many people cross the border, the Associated Press reports. For eight straight months, the number of apprehensions has dropped. A Homeland Security official told the AP that the number of encounters with border officials over the past four months was 165,000. A year earlier, during the same time period, it had been about 242,000.

The tally for the month of January was about 36,000, including apprehensions of people crossing illegally and migrants who presented themselves at ports of entry. That’s a 10 percent decline from December.

New Border Barrier Issues Emerging

The $18 billion barrier that the Trump administration is building along the U.S.-Mexico border is one of the largest federal infrastructure projects in U.S. history. But the long-term costs of maintaining the hundreds of miles of barriers remain largely unknown and experts said it could cost taxpayers billions of additional dollars, reports the Washington Post.

“The Trump administration has not said what the government expects to spend in coming decades on upkeep and repairs for the structure — which crosses remote deserts and Texas riverbanks where extreme weather is common and powerful smuggling organizations are relentless — or for its roadways and technology,” the Post notes.

Several panels of new barrier being installed along the Calexico-Mexicali border were blown down by high winds, landing in Mexicali. The 30-foot steel bollard panels had recently been anchored in concrete, which had not yet cured, when gusts of wind blowing around 20 to 30 miles per hour knocked them down, the Union-Tribune reports.

As these new issues emerge with the border barrier, existing ones remain. Conservation groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review rulings that have allowed the Trump administration to bypass environmental protection laws to expedite border wall construction.

  • A shootout at a border wall construction site near San Diego that wounded two Mexican security guards last summer is under FBI investigation, the Washington Post reports. The incident raised questions about use-of-force rules for the Mexican companies hired to protect southern access to worksites where U.S. crews are building the wall and concerns raised by U.S. Border Patrol agents who encountered Mexican security guards crossing back and forth across the international boundary without authorization, the Post writes.

Holding Immigration Officials Accountable Just Got More Difficult

The Trump administration designated Customs and Border Protection a “security agency,” which exempts it from making certain records available to the public, reports The Nation.

The National Archives is eliminating immigration-related documents, writes Columbia University professor Matthew Connelly in the New York Times. The archives recently agreed to allow ICE to destroy records on complaints of civil rights violations and in-custody deaths.

“Now, even the court of history will be closed,” writes Connelly.

And the courts are beginning to help Trump’s immigration efforts as well, the New Yorker reports.

The Trump administration has issued many new actions, rules and regulations related to immigration, including measures to quell asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border. Nearly all of them have been challenged in court. In several instances, federal judges have issues nationwide injunctions, halting the policies, but the higher courts are starting to re-affirm and bolster the administration’s immigration agenda, the New Yorker writes.

More Border News

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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