The Likelihood of Harm is Reduced Somewhat by the Mexican Government’s Commitment / by Karie Luidens

Mexican flag Jorge Aguilar Unsplash.jpg

Trump Administration Can Keep Sending Asylum Seekers to Mexico, Court Rules

By Miriam Jordan
May 7, 2019
The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — A federal appeals court on Tuesday [5/7/19] ruled that the Trump administration can continue to enforce a policy that returns asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait for an immigration court to decide their cases. […]

The Trump administration unveiled the “Remain in Mexico” program in December [2018] for migrants entering the country in San Diego and has since expanded it to El Paso.

It is intended to crack down on asylum claims, which have soared as Central American migrants have crossed the United States’ southwestern border in ever-larger numbers over the past year.

But forcing asylum applicants to remain in possibly dangerous conditions in Mexico represents a major break from longstanding practice that permitted most migrants who requested asylum to live in the United States while they awaited the outcome of their cases. […]

Legal advocates for migrants have denounced the policy, saying a spike in violence and overwhelmed shelters in Mexican border towns put the migrants at risk.

Being forced to remain in Mexico while their asylum cases are being prepared also limits the migrants’ access to legal counsel because they cannot reach the help that is available on the American side of the border, immigration lawyers said. […]

[One lawyer] said that families are being dropped off on the streets of Ciudad Juárez, across the border, where they cannot find space in shelters that are at capacity. Many, she said, are being targeted by robbers and kidnappers. “We have had multiple families kidnapped for extortion,” she said.

But a majority of the three-judge panel concluded that allowing the policy to remain in place for now was not unreasonable.

To summarize…

When people approach our country and file paperwork requesting asylum, normally they’d then remain in the U.S. while they await their day in court. But six months ago the Trump administration created a new policy: immediately send asylum seekers back to Mexico. While they wait, they languish for months in crowded shelters in Tijuana and Juarez, just across the border from San Diego and El Paso.

There’s no practical reason for this policy—there’s no reason why these people shouldn’t be allowed to spend those months in the safety of the U.S. It’s simply punitive, more harsh treatment meant to scare off potential future border crossers.

As such, civil rights groups challenged the policy in court. This week a three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled that, while their legal challenge plays out, the administration can continue to enforce the policy.

The main logic behind that decision appears to be that, although the “Remain in Mexico” policy goes against both the spirit and the letter of international law, it’s acceptable in practice because, where the U.S. falls short in providing asylum seekers with due process and physical safety, Mexico is picking up the slack.

Here are a few quotes from the article reflecting the opinions of those involved:

  • The Republican-appointed judge who wrote the panel’s opinion: “The plaintiffs fear substantial injury upon return to Mexico, but the likelihood of harm is reduced somewhat by the Mexican government’s commitment to honor its international-law obligations.” In other words: The U.S. government is failing to guarantee the safety of these asylum seekers—failing to honor its international-law obligations—but that’s fine, because Mexico is doing it for us.

  • Meanwhile, in Mexico, the article’s author writes: “Mexican officials have said that while they disagree with the policy, which they have described as a unilateral decision by the Trump administration, they would accept the asylum seekers, protect their rights and allow them to lawfully remain in Mexico while their cases wind through the American courts.”

  • The Democrat-appointed judges who dissented: “The government is wrong. Not just arguably wrong, but clearly and flagrantly wrong.” “I’m at a loss to understand how an agency whose professed goal is to comply with non-refoulement principles could rationally decide not to ask that question.“