MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s government and Central American migrants in overcrowded shelters expressed concern on Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed President Donald Trump to slam the door on asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexican border.
Central American migrants returned to Mexico from the U.S. under the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) to wait for their court hearing for asylum seekers, have breakfast at a migrant shelter in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico September 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
The court on Wednesday found that Trump’s restrictive asylum rule could go into effect nationwide while a lawsuit challenging its underlying legality proceeds, handing the president a victory as he brandishes his anti-immigration credentials for the November 2020 presidential election.
The rule requires immigrants who want asylum to first seek safe haven in a third country through which they travel on the way to the United States.
Trump’s immigration crackdown has animated his base of supporters while immigrant advocates in the United States fear the court decision will endanger the lives of asylum-seekers, many of them fleeing poverty, street gangs and domestic violence in Central American countries.
With the threat of automatic rejection hanging over the most recent arrivals, thousands of migrants are cramped into shelters or sleeping in the streets of Mexican border cities in places such as the state of Tamaulipas, where the U.S. State Department has placed a “do not travel” advisory due to violent crime similar to its warnings against visiting Sudan or Syria.
One asylum-seeker from El Salvador who staying in a Tijuana shelter while awaiting her immigration hearing in San Diego said she could only hope to God she would not be sent back.
“I’m very scared, I hope this won’t affect me. I cannot return to my country, they tried to rape me there twice because I am a lesbian and the last time I ended up in a hospital in intensive care,” said Veronica Martinez, 23. “I trust in God that the court’s decision does not affect me.”
The Mexican government also pushed back against the U.S. high court’s action, one that could create a new headache for Mexico.
“WE DON’T AGREE”
“This is the ruling by the court, it’s a U.S. issue, and obviously we don’t agree with it, we have a different policy,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference.
The court’s move comes at a delicate time for Mexican-U.S. relations. Under Trump’s threat of imposing tariffs, Mexico has agreed to house many of the surging number of Central American asylum-seekers south of the border pending their U.S. hearings.
That gesture has led to a decline in U.S. apprehensions and rejections of migrants at the border, which totaled 64,000 people in August, down 22% from July and 56% from a high mark in May.
Even though arrests are still at their highest for any month of August since 2007, the decline from earlier this year won Mexico praise from Trump following a White House meeting on Tuesday.
But Mexico has resisted U.S. pressure to sign a formal “safe third country” agreement that would commit it to hearing the asylum cases of migrants from Central American and elsewhere, a move that would take even more pressure off the U.S. border.
The downside for Mexico is that the building of migrants at the northern border is putting stress on schools, health clinics and housing.
“We have seen outbreaks of acts of xenophobia in Mexico that did not exist before, mainly in the north of the country, where surely many of these people will end up,” said Israel Ibarra, an immigration expert with the Continente Movil consultancy in Tijuana.
According to heads of migrant shelters and aid groups in Tamaulipas state, asylum-seekers who are stuck south of the border in Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros are camped out by the Rio Grande and in the streets.
Francisco Gallardo, director of the Casa de Migrantes shelter in Reynosa, said asylum-seekers are sleeping in tents beside a bridge linking the two countries while their U.S. hearings and are sure to grow more discouraged by the Supreme Court decision.
“We’ll see what measures can be taken because there are about 500 people next to the bridge,” Gallardo said.
Some are opting to return home to Central America, often with the help of Mexican immigration officials who bus them from the northern border with the Unites States to the southern border with Guatemala, Gallardo said.
Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher, Lizbeth Diaz, Adriana Barrera and Delphine Schrank; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell