I traveled to El Paso from Tegucigalpa last Wednesday.
The same day the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to bar most Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States while a court case wound its way through the system (helpful LawfareBlog here).
Our delegation, led by the Center for Democracy in the Americas, quickly understood the implications of ruling. But I didn’t fully grasp the human consequences until I saw a small dry erase board hanging outside the Migrant Assistance Center (CAIM) next to the Paso del Norte international bridge in Ciudad Juarez.
The sign read, “ultimo numero ingresado, 12,552.”
Or, to roughly translate, since October 2018, the last number admitted to the US on September 10 for their initial asylum hearing was number 12,552. Enrique Valenzuela Peralta, coordinator of CAIM, told us there were roughly 6,200 still waiting for their number to be called. And the list grew longer every day.
Enrique, a kind, generous, gentle soul, said Mexican communities were dealing with a problem they did not cause. But, he told us, he was, “Not going to call it a crisis because it’s our job to make sure it does not become a crisis.”
As Linda Rivas, executive director of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center told our delegation of Americans, “[CAIM staff] are doing the work the US should be doing. We should be ashamed. These state employees for Mexico are protecting the dignity of the migrant.”
HIAS, Las Americas, among others had setup offices at CAIM. Preparing cases respondents’ cases for an already overburdened MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) court that we visited the next day.
From CAIM we drove to El Buen Pastor, a migrant shelter on a dusty Ciudad Juarez side street.
A space meant for 40–60 individuals, the pastor told us, was regularly providing food and shelter to more than 150 migrants from Mexico, Central America, Russia, Uganda, Cameroon and beyond. All of whom were waiting for their number to be called by DHS; or were waiting for the right moment to present themselves at the crossing.
The pastor, who wasn’t expecting his new church assignment to take this turn months ago, told us, “Even though we weren’t prepared, God was prepared.” After the pastor spoke, we broke into informal groups. Children’s laughter soon filled the church sanctuary while, huddled in small circles, adults shared their stories.
I walked across the room to one of the African migrants. Wearing a black t-shirt and bright green pants he looked pensive — resting his chin on his hand, his elbow on his thigh — while the pastor had spoken.
M. spoke English quite well. He was initially skeptical of my invitation to talk. So, instead of peppering him with questions, I told him a little about myself. He slowly let down his guard.
Trained as a physician in his home country, M. had worked in a government health clinic. He had opened a small clinic in his village so his community could get medical care.
Through a sense of duty and compassion, one day, he provided care to a member of the LGBT community. He didn’t ask questions. Didn’t pass judgement. Soon, he realized he was treating more and more LGBT community members.
The village elders soon heard about his patient population. They summoned him. Told him to stop. He didn’t.
A black van showed up outside the clinic one evening. He was taken. He was driven five hours. He was tortured. “Things I can’t describe,” M. told me.
M. escaped his captors and made it back to the capital. Where a friend helped him secure the resources necessary to escape the country. And, about a month or so later, he made it to Mexico City, hoping to eventually apply for asylum in the US.
Moving between Mexico City shelters, M. took a wrong turn one evening. And was kidnapped. And was beaten. He told me an argument between his captors that evening may have saved his life. He fled Mexico City and, over the coming weeks he made his way, via a Mexican immigration center, to El Buen Pastor in Ciudad Juarez.
M. told me he followed the news carefully. He knew his chances of receiving asylum under the Trump administration were slim. He implored a colleague from Hope Border Institute, who knew his case, to take him to the border crossing soon.
M. had been at El Buen Pastor for two months. The other African migrants who had joined the conversation had been at the shelter for five months. Central American migrants waited alongside them.
In normal times, they had asylum cases that deserved a hearing. But these are not normal times. These are times when cartels determine the sanctity of a migrant’s life. Not the United States.
In our name, the administration’s asylum policies are implemented free of accountability, free of moral, political, economic cost.
Implemented with impunity.