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Trump Policy To Send Asylum-Seekers Back To Mexico Overwhelms Shelters


It's become almost routine - reports of a record number of migrant families crossing into the U.S. And so it was this week, when officials reported 58,000 parents and children were apprehended at the U.S. southern border. In response, the Trump administration is scaling up a new tactic, sending asylum-seekers back to Mexico to wait out their cases. Emily Green reports.

ILDA: (Speaking Spanish).

EMILY GREEN, BYLINE: In a shelter in the Mexican border city of Juarez, 30-year-old Ilda tries to quiet down her two boys, ages 3 and 6. Hilda is from Honduras, where endemic violence and poverty have driven hundreds of thousands of people to flee. A few weeks ago, Ilda also set out for the U.S.

ILDA: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: She says she was scared because she heard that the U.S. was going to get rid of a law that would allow her to enter with her kids, and she wanted to take advantage before they got rid of it. Her husband was waiting for her in Dallas, Texas. He made the journey six months earlier with their 10-year-old son. The rest of her family is also in the U.S - her brother, a U.S. citizen, and her parents.

ILDA: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: She says she came to the U.S. with her two youngest sons because in Honduras, they have nobody. Ilda didn't want to use her full name for fear of retribution. Last week, she and her sons reached the U.S. and turned themselves into border patrol agents. But then they sent her and her boys back to Mexico, to Juarez. They were told they had to wait in Mexico until their asylum case is decided in U.S. courts. They are among roughly 3,700 Central Americans in this situation according to the Department of Homeland Security. They were returned to Mexico under a new U.S. policy the Trump administration calls migrant protection protocols.

PETER MARGULIES: And so those people may never end up in the United States at all. If they lose their asylum hearings, they'll either stay in Mexico, or they'll be deported back to a country in Central America. So that's why the government wants to do this.

GREEN: Peter Margulies is a professor at Roger Williams University School of Law. He says there are good arguments for why the program is illegal. Among other things, it puts asylum-seekers at risk as they wait in violent Mexican border cities. But he says the Trump administration also has a solid legal argument. It has to do with a provision of U.S. immigration law.

MARGULIES: That one allows the government to remove people to a contiguous country - that means a country next door to the U.S. Mexico is next door.

GREEN: This week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the program could continue for the time being. This has government officials in Juarez very worried, like Enrique Valenzuela. In the last seven weeks alone, the U.S. has sent back around 1,800 Central Americans to Juarez to wait out their asylum cases.

ENRIQUE VALENZUELA: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: He says he knows they'll be waiting in Juarez for more than three or six months. It could easily be more than a year. Mexico's president has described the program as a unilateral action on the part of the U.S. He hasn't officially accepted it, but Mexican authorities are working with U.S. officials to support the returnees. Clara Long, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, says the question is whether Mexico will eventually push back.

CLARA LONG: That's sort of a wildcard potentially built-in limitation. Does Mexico want to become an enormous refugee camp for the United States?

GREEN: But for now, the program continues and appears to be expanding. And Ilda, she feels desperate. She and her boys are staying at a shelter, but they've been told they can't stay for months on end. And their first court hearing isn't until October 2.

ILDA: (Speaking Spanish).

GREEN: "I feel destroyed," she says. "I don't know what to do, where to go." For NPR News, I'm Emily Green. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Green