McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Federal officials confirmed Friday that the government has expanded to South Texas its requirement that migrants seeking asylum in Brownsville be sent back to Matamoros, Mexico, to await hearings. And there are plans to extend enforcement of this controversial program to Arizona.
The new rule, which agents from the Department of Homeland Security began enforcing Friday in Brownsville, Texas, in effect sends migrants to one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, which is rife with killings and overrun by dangerous drug cartels like the Gulf Cartel.
This is the first time the Trump Administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program has been enforced in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley, which is the sector with the most illegal border crossings in the nation.
Commonly called “Return to Mexico,” the program began in California and spread to El Paso. Two weeks ago it began in the Texas city of Laredo, and soon it will be expanded to Yuma, Arizona, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas whose district includes Laredo, said Friday at a press conference in McAllen, Texas.
Asylum seekers who cross into Brownsville will be processed in tents on the U.S. side, and “if there is a credible fear and they feel they should go and ask for asylum, they will go back and at a later time they will come in before a judge … and then the judge will provide a hearing to see if there is an asylum case that should be granted,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar said that immigration court data generally shows that out of 100 asylum-seekers, only 12 are granted asylum cases. Enforcement of this policy, Homeland Security officials have said, will help to weed out asylum cases and get them out of the immigration court system quickly.
But how long immigrants will have to wait in Mexico is uncertain and immigration advocates say that is cruel and inhumane treatment of migrants who come to claim asylum from countries where they are being persecuted or victims of crime.
“Once someone steps into the United States they can apply for asylum and are entitled for protection and should not be returned to a country where they face danger,” Efren Olivares, racial and economic director for the Texas Civil Rights Project told Border Report.
“We’ve told the Mexicans they got to do whatever they need to do to make sure they’re protected. That could always be a concern, especially with certain states across the border. How long? It depends. We don’t know,” Cuellar said.
Since January, at least 18,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, Mexico’s National Migration Institute reports. And immigration advocates say those numbers could double, or possibly triple, by adding migrants from the busy South Texas region.
Standing outside the U.S. Border Patrol processing center in McAllen on Friday after touring the facility with a delegation of other senators, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., criticized conditions inside the facilities and other Trump administration programs, like “Return to Mexico,” which thwart asylum seekers.
“We want them treated with dignity and respect as we would want our family members to be treated,” Merkley said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Sandra Sanchez can be reached at SSanchez@BorderReport.com.