For the last two years, the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or “Remain in Mexico” policy, have forced almost 70,000 people seeking asylum in the United States to wait in dangerous Mexican border towns while their cases pend – in violation of U.S. and international law, which prohibits returning asylum seekers to places where they fear that they may be persecuted.
With the indefinite postponement of immigration hearings due to COVID-19, asylum seekers in MPP face ever-lengthening periods of stay in Mexico, where many have experienced violence, trauma, and human rights abuses.
Since the start of MPP, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has responded to more than 100 requests by attorneys for pro bono forensic evaluations of asylum seekers enrolled in the program, most in support of asylum claims and a few in support of requests for MPP exemption due to health issues. To quantify the extent of reported health and human rights violations affecting asylum seekers in MPP, PHR partnered with the University of Southern California’s Keck Human Rights Clinic (KHRC) to review 95 deidentified affidavits based on forensic evaluations of asylum seekers from Central and South America ranging in age from 4 to 67 years. We found that at least 11 people belonged to categories that should have been exempt from MPP enrollment. Although most affidavits focused on the harms migrants fled in their home countries, most documented compounding harms to the migrants after they were returned to Mexico under MPP, including physical violence, sexual violence, kidnapping, theft, extortion, threats, and harm to family members. The affidavits also reported unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, poor access to services, family separations, and poor treatment in U.S. immigration detention. Nearly all of those evaluated were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and many exhibited other debilitating psychological conditions or symptoms.
This study adds to the considerable evidence that it is not safe for migrants to remain in Mexico while their U.S. asylum cases are pending, and forcing them to do so violates U.S. and international law. The incoming Biden administration should immediately admit all people enrolled in MPP into community settings in the United States, rescind MPP, and initiate an investigation to determine appropriate redress for people harmed by this policy.