US

Border City Reluctantly Accepts Returned Asylum-Seekers

By Kimberly Hayek

TIJUANA, Mexico—The Trump administration launched an effort to discourage thousands of migrants from seeking asylum and subsequently disappearing into the United States—by sending them to Mexico to wait out their cases. On Jan. 28, the first one was returned to Tijuana. The migrant-heavy border city was not happy about it.

The Mexican federal government, however, has reluctantly agreed to the policy.

Under the policy, called the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), many asylum-seekers entering the southwestern border may be returned to Mexico while they wait for their immigration hearings in the United States. So far MPP only applies to the San Ysidro Border Crossing between San Diego and Tijuana.

Mexican Foreign Ministry spokesman Roberto Velasco criticized the United States for the new program but said Mexico will strive to uphold international law in their actions.

“The government of Mexico does not agree with the unilateral measure implemented by the government of the United States. Notwithstanding and in congruence with our new migratory policy, we reiterate our commitment to migrants and human rights,” he said.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen first announced the program in December, then-called the Remain in Mexico policy. Last week rumors circulated that it would begin immediately. The start of the program coincided with Nielsen’s visit to the San Ysidro Port of Entry to conduct an operational tour on Jan. 28. One asylum seeker from Honduras was returned to Tijuana that morning.

“The MPP will enable DHS to take a huge step forward in bringing order to chaotic migration flows, restoring the rule of law and the integrity of the United States immigration system, and allowing DHS to focus resources on providing relief to individuals fleeing persecution while at the same time holding those accountable who make false asylum claims,” Nielsen said in a statement.

It does not apply to unaccompanied minors. The program’s launch comes as a second caravan of thousands of Central Americans makes its way north, with many planning to reach the U.S. border to seek asylum. Last year, a large caravan brought more than 6,000 migrants to Tijuana, bogging down the city’s resources and causing protests.

Mexicans protest the migrant caravan from Central America as riot police keep them away from the migrant encampment in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 18, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

Honduran reporter Josué Cover told The Epoch Times on Jan. 17 that Honduran migrants that left with the new caravan in January are encouraged to head north by stories from those who left with the first caravan and successfully crossed the border.

“I was able to interview three minors who told me ‘Well my mom went with my little sister in the other caravan and they are already in the United States, now the three of us are going.’ They are 17, 16, and 12 years old, they are going together because they believe that they will cross through.”

Cover said many bring young children because they are told—by coyotes and by migrants who have successfully entered the United States—it will be easier to enter the country that way.

“The coyotes tell them ‘Please, if you are going to come, then come with a minor, with a baby, because that way you are given more support. That is, they are given the opportunity to cross to the United States.”

Migrants depart from Honduras on Jan. 13, 2019. (Josué Cover for Campus TV)

The Trump administration has been trying to get Congress to close the catch-and-release loophole. Under catch-and-release, illegal aliens who claim asylum are able to stay and work in the United States for years until their immigration court date—but most don’t show up.

Currently, the immigration system has about 800,000 pending cases.

Cover also said that Honduran migrants that left with the new caravan in January know about the policy.

“They are aware of the dangers along the journey and they are aware that if Donald Trump does not let them enter (the country), they have to stay in Mexico,” Cover said.

He also said that many migrants that aren’t granted asylum will attempt to cross the border illegally.

“What they do is they arrive at the border, they pay a person at the border, and (they) tell a relative to get (them) at the border, that is the most common method that can happen,” he said. Many migrants The Epoch Times spoke to in Tijuana from the first caravan said they would not apply for asylum because it’s a waste of time. Instead, they’re making plans to cross illegally.

“Look, about asylum, they’re not going to give it to you,” Luis Conde, 48, from Guatemala said on Nov. 26. “Understand—He (Trump) already clearly said that he isn’t giving asylum. So why start the process?”

Luis Conde (R), 46, from Guatemala, stands in the line for food outside the migrant camp at Benito Juarez sports complex in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 26, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

In Tijuana, the Secretary of Government Leopoldo Guerrero said it is the federal government’s responsibility to deal with the migrants. He stressed that the city does not have the resources to take care of the large number of people and that it hurts the city’s economy—which relies largely on tourism.

“It’s not up to us to be taking care of this problem,” he told a crowd of reporters in Tijuana on Jan. 26. “People, because of fear, decide not to come to Tijuana, they do not cross the border—and that turns into a problem because it affects the economy.”

Tijuana’s Public Safety Secretary Marco Antonio Sotomayor said it has been challenging and very costly for the city to take care of the thousands of migrants that have arrived in Tijuana since November.

“What we want is if someone asks for political asylum and in the end a process is opened in the United States well then he should be received by the United States,” Sotomayor told The Epoch Times on Jan. 14. “We do not want Tijuana to be in charge of that. It is not a responsibility of the municipal government.”

Tijuana Secretary of Public Security Marco Sotomayor during a press conference in Tijuana, Mexico, on Nov. 26, 2018. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

On Jan. 29, Sotomayor called out Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the federal government for accepting the Central American migrant back into the country. He called it a “violation of national sovereignty.”