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Home | Tag Archives: remain in mexico

Tag Archives: remain in mexico

Federal immigration officials announce plans for resuming “remain in Mexico” hearings during the coronavirus pandemic

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice on Friday announced plans for how they will resume hearings for asylum seekers currently in the Migrant Protection Protocols after court dates were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, also called remain in Mexico, requires that most asylum seekers wait in Mexico for their court dates in front of an American immigration judges. Since the MPP program began in late 2018, more than 60,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico, including more than 20,000 in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez area.

It will likely take weeks for the criteria to resume hearings to be met. For Texas it means the state must achieve reopening at a level designated as stage three by Gov. Greg Abbott. The state had reached that level, Abbott announced, when he allowed restaurants to expand their occupancy to 75% capacity and bars to operate at 50% capacity. But he’s since rolled back capacity at eateries and closed bars completely after Texas and more than a dozen states began experiencing surges of cases after reopening.

“In order to resume MPP hearings in a responsible manner that will minimize risk to public health and the spread of disease, DHS plans to adhere to recommended federal guidance and protocols, including in particular the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social-distancing and sanitization standards,” the DHS and U.S. Department of Justice said in a joint statement. “DHS is working to secure the equipment and resources necessary to support this safe resumption of MPP hearings.”

In addition to the state guidelines, the DHS said it will also wait for the U.S. Department of State and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lower their global health advisories to Level 2. The State Department is currently at Level 4, which “ advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19”, and the CDC is at Level 3, which recommends the same guidance.

Mexico must also achieve “yellow” status for the states that border the United States, which include Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua on the Texas border and Sonora and Baja California to the west. Yellow status means most business and places are open but residents are still urged to practice caution with an emphasis on the country’s vulnerable population. As of Wednesday, about half the country was one level higher at orange, and the rest of the states at red, the highest in the system, the Associated Press reported.

Once those metrics are achieved, the DHS said it will “will develop detailed, location-specific plans to safely resume MPP hearings consistent with CDC guidelines,” according to the statement. “Once the criteria are met, the Departments will provide public notification at least fifteen calendar days prior to resumption of the hearings with location-specific details.”

Face masks will also be required for immigrants and other visitors, and temperature checks will be conducted. If a court room has reached capacity, hearings will be rescheduled, according to the guidance.

Even before the pandemic struck the globe, the MPP program was widely criticized by immigration attorneys and advocates who said it placed thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers at risk of violence in Mexican border cities that have seen sustained or increased bloodshed in border states. Attorneys have also argued that the program makes proper representation nearly impossible because they can’t communicate with clients in migrant shelters or, in more dire cases, asylum seekers who have no place to stay. They argue that instead of returning the migrants to Mexico, they should instead be paroled into the United States and places with family members already living in the country. Despite multiple lawsuits aimed at stopping the program, district courts have allowed it to proceed.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILARThe Texas Tribune

President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy blocked in federal court

A federal appeals court in California halted the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” immigration policy on Friday, a blow to the president’s restrictive immigration agenda that cripples one of the government’s approaches to curbing migration across the U.S. southern border.

The program — officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP — called for pushing asylum seekers back into Mexico to await their U.S. asylum hearings, part of an effort to limit migrant access to U.S. soil and to lessen a record migration surge among Central American families. More than 470,000 parents and children crossed into the United States last fiscal year, and most were quickly freed into the country to await U.S. immigration court hearings after they claimed asylum.

The Trump administration has claimed that the migrant families have been exploiting loopholes in U.S. law to secure their release, knowing of the court-mandated 20-day limit for detaining children. The MPP program was designed to prevent families from entering the United States and later skipping their court hearings to avoid deportation; instead, families have been sitting on the Mexico side of the border.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to uphold a lower-court’s injunction on MPP, saying that the policy “is invalid in its entirety due to its inconsistency with” federal law, and “should be enjoined in its entirety.”

Judges Richard A. Paez and William A. Fletcher, both appointed by President Bill Clinton, voted to uphold the injunction, while Ferdinand F. Fernandez, a President George H.W. Bush appointee, disagreed.

The judges agreed with a lower-court judge that MPP likely violated federal immigration law by ousting undocumented asylum seekers who are supposed to be allowed to apply for protection inside the United States. The judges also said the program likely violated the United States’ “non-refoulement” obligations under international and domestic law, which prohibit the U.S. government from sending people to a country where they could face persecution. The 57-page ruling cited multiple examples of Central American asylum seekers who feared kidnapping, threats and violence in Mexico.

The administration has been working to cut down on its use of MPP in recent months by fast-tracking deportation hearings and sending migrants from Central America by airplane to Guatemala as part of an agreement that allows them to seek asylum there instead. The policies, working together, have been credited with slowing the flow of migrants northward. The number of people waiting in Mexican border cities for U.S. immigration court dates has dwindled, in part because migrants said they were not making the trek to the United States in the first place given how unlikely it would be that they would gain entry.

It is unclear what halting the policy might do to that mind-set, and whether its absence could spur another surge in immigration among Central Americans. It is likely that many of the people waiting in Mexico for U.S. court hearings could now try to re-enter the United States in coming days.

The ruling came on the same day Mexico announced its first coronavirus case, a traveler returning from Italy, raising potential fears about what a run on the U.S. border could mean.

Sanitary conditions are abysmal in the squalid border camps where thousands of would-be asylum seekers are camped out while awaiting a chance to appeal for humanitarian protection in the United States.

One former Department of Homeland Security official said the court decision could prompt the White House to invoke emergency executive powers to impose even tighter restrictions on asylum seekers at the border. One legal provision, known as “Return to Territory,” gives U.S. border officials broad powers to compel a foreign national to go back to Mexico or Canada if that person is deemed inadmissible.

“This ruling couldn’t come at a worse time,” said the former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to maintain ties to the administration.

The same three-judge panel issued a separate 3-0 ruling blocking Trump’s first so-called asylum ban, which aimed to bar immigrants who crossed the border illegally from seeking asylum. The policy was temporarily halted in 2018. Trump blasted the lower-court judge in the case for being an “Obama judge,” prompting a public rebuke from Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who sided with the court’s four liberal justices months later to let the injunction stand.

Roberts and other conservative justices have since allowed other Trump policies to unfold despite pending lawsuits against them, including one policy that decrees migrants ineligible for asylum if they passed through another country where they could have sought refuge on their way to the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union cheered the decisions Friday.

“The two cases combined are an important step to restoring the United States’ long-standing commitment to protecting vulnerable people fleeing persecution,” said ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt.

After MPP officially began in January 2019, it quickly became a central aspect of the Trump administration’s bulwark against immigration. It expanded significantly in June, when Mexico agreed to host thousands of migrants and to crack down on smugglers after Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexico’s exports to the United States.

Approximately 59,000 migrants from countries including Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Venezuela have been sent back to Mexico to wait until their asylum cases could be heard in the United States. U.S. officials said the program had a powerful deterrent effect at the border.

Homeland Security officials have credited MPP and other policies with a 71% drop in the number of migrants taken into custody at the border since the peak of 144,000 in May.

Federal officials had blamed the surge of migrant families on smugglers who were exploiting U.S. law and were persuading Central Americans to sell their houses, take out loans, and travel with a child to the United States with promises that families could speed through the immigration bureaucracy.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan blamed smugglers for enticing migrants to pay exorbitant fees for the trip to the United States and exposing children to the dangerous journey because they were more likely to be released to await a court hearing. But he said the MPP program was “telling the cartels and this vulnerable population the game has changed.”

“It used to be, you come here with a kid, that was your passport into the United States,” he told reporters at a Sept. 9 White House briefing. “MPP is saying, ‘That’s done. That’s a lie now. You can’t. You’re not going to be allowed into this country even if you bring a kid.’ So don’t mortgage your home. Don’t pay the cartels. Don’t risk your life. Don’t risk the life of your family. When you get in here, don’t allow yourself to continue to get exploited. That’s what MPP is doing.”

Though the Ninth Circuit’s decision almost certainly will be appealed, for now it stops the policy nationwide. The Trump administration had been declaring near-victory in stemming immigration just weeks ago, in part because of MPP’s success.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of DHS, said last month that attempting to cross into the United States is “essentially futile at this point” and that “illegal migrants are going to be promptly returned.”

But thousands are still trying, and more might follow as temperatures warm in the coming months.

“We are not unmindful of the possibility that while the flows have gone down for seven months, they can go back up, and we’re preparing to handle that as well,” Cuccinelli said at a media briefing.

MPP and other measures are “critical to averting a further crisis” on the border, he said. The Trump administration also has brokered agreements with countries in Central America to absorb people the United States rejects and has accelerated plans to add hundreds of miles of new fencing along the nearly 2,000-mile border.

Advocates for immigrants say MPP and other enforcement measures forced families with young children to await their hearings in crime-ridden Mexican border cities where their lives are in danger.

Human Rights First, an advocacy group, said it has documented more than 800 reports of rape, kidnapping, and other violent attacks against asylum seekers forced to return to Mexico under MPP.

Justice Department lawyers have called those claims “speculative” and have said the program is “one of the few congressionally authorized measures available” to control the border.

But Morgan, who initially said that Mexico had not advised the U.S. government of any attacks, acknowledged in December that some reports of violence were true. He said migrants would not be at risk if they stayed inside the “shelter environment.” Human Rights First said migrants also have been targeted in shelters.

Morgan said U.S. policy is not to blame for the attacks, “if there’s an act of violence in Mexico, there’s only one person to blame. And that’s the individuals who committed that act of violence.”

But federal judges have expressed deep concerns about whether the U.S. government is violating the internationally agreed upon principle of “non-refoulement,” which says nations will not send foreign nationals to countries where they could face persecution.

A federal judge in California initially halted MPP, but in May a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit allowed the program to resume until another set of judges could hear arguments over its legality.

Two of the three judges on that earlier panel expressed concern about migrants’ safety in Mexico. One judge said it seemed “irrational” to send migrants to Mexico without asking them whether they were afraid to return there, while another said the government is “clearly and flagrantly wrong.”

During a hearing on Oct. 1, some judges on a separate panel questioned Justice Department lawyers about the administration having sent migrants into Mexico without asking them if they fear for their safety.

Judge William Fletcher said the U.S. government is doing little to protect migrants at the border, saying “you’re giving them nothing.”

“You’re not even asking the key question with respect to refoulement, that is to say, ‘Are you afraid?’” he told Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart during the hearing.

Author: MARIA SACCHETTI – THE WASHINGTON POST

Statement: Bishop of El Paso on expansion of Remain in Mexico to include Brazilians

A year of Remain in Mexico has damaged enough human lives, hurt enough families and chipped away far too much at our country’s commitment to life, dignity and the protections that should be afforded to asylum seekers and refugees.

It is unfortunate that on this sad anniversary the government should expand this indefensible program to Brazilians, who cannot speak Spanish and are thus made even more vulnerable to criminal predation and exploitation.

Remain in Mexico unnecessarily puts Border Patrol agents and Customs officers in the pews of our churches in the lamentable position of having to choose between following the laws of conscience or the morally bankrupt dictates of man when they encounter human beings in need, who represent for us Christ, hidden beneath the guise of misery, fear and desperation.

May our consciences not be dulled and may those with the power to end Remain in Mexico, and every inhumane action against the one human family, hear our voices shouting out in the desert for compassion and for justice.

***

El Paso Herald-Post welcomes all views and viewpoints.  To have your opinion heard, review the guidelines here and the submit your letter to news@epheraldpost.com

Migrants, advocates mark the anniversary of “remain in Mexico” with fear, anger and trepidation

Oscar, who was living in Ciudad Juárez after fleeing Honduras, said he was badly beaten in September on his way to find work simply for being Central American. His teeth were knocked out and he was repeatedly clubbed in the head.

In July, Luis Emilio, a 22-year old Ecuadoran migrant, was sent back to Mexico after spending everything he had to make the trek to Ciudad Juárez in hopes of seeking asylum in the United States. He has since given up and tried to go back to his home country.

And just last month, Sofia, who fled Central America with her husband and two children, was told by Juárez shelter officials to consider taking her young daughter out of school because increasing violence made walking to the campus too dangerous, her attorney said.

Those are just a few of the stories collected from people waiting on the south side of the Texas-Mexico border since the Trump administration implemented its Migrant Protection Protocols, a program that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings in American courts. (The migrants asked their last names not be revealed for fear of reprisals in Mexico and the United States.)

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the program that has so far sent more than 60,000 migrants back across the border since it was first implemented in California and Baja California. The program then expanded to the Texas border and the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Coahuila.

“As of today, approximately 60,000 asylum seekers are unable to reach safety because of the Trump Administration’s policies,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio said in a statement on behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “While waiting, these families are vulnerable to kidnapping, assault, rape, extortion, and murder. They cannot access legal counsel, and then do not receive due process at the immigration tent courts across the border.”

As of December, about 17,500 people had been returned to Ciudad Juárez alone, making the gritty border city the epicenter of the program. A report published earlier this week by the HOPE Border Institute puts the figure closer to 20,000.

Enrique Valenzuela, the director of Ciudad Juárez’s Centro de Atención a Migrantes, a migrant transition facility operated by the Chihuahua state government, said it’s difficult to determine how accurate the counts are or how many migrants are still waiting in Mexico. That’s because many of them have either grown frustrated with the program and decided to try crossing the Rio Grande illegally, or they have simply given up and returned home.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to a request for comment. But acting Customs and Border Protection Secretary Mark Morgan has said the program has had the intended effect: slowing unauthorized crossings.

In December, federal agents apprehended or turned away 40,620 migrants at the southwest border. That marked the eighth monthly decrease since the number hit 144,116 in May, according to CBP statistics.

Morgan added that reports of violence in Mexico are overblown.

“The individuals that leave that shelter environment and re-engage with the cartels to potentially be re-smuggled in the United States … that’s where we’re seeing and we’re hearing some of the anecdotal stories,” he said last month.

The rollout of the program last year came as violence in Mexican border cities continued to climb. Ciudad Juárez recorded about 1,500 homicides in 2019, the highest yearly total since 2011, the last year of a drug war that claimed more than 10,000 people in the border city. Last weekend, 20 people were murdered in 24 hours in Ciuadad Juárez.

And in a New Year’s Day Facebook post, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar asked Laredoans not to travel to their sister city.

“Please avoid these areas and do not cross over to Nuevo Laredo. It’s been said that high-caliber machine guns and explosives are being utilized. They are highjacking vehicles and disturbing the peace. Our prayers go out to the citizens of Nuevo Laredo,” he wrote.

For migrants choosing to tough it out, the chances of receiving asylum are slim. Of the estimated 7,500 cases that immigration judges have decided in the El Paso immigration court system, asylum or another form of relief was granted in only 15 instances, according to the report by the HOPE Border Institute.

“With a near 90 percent denial rate, El Paso immigration courts routinely deny asylum significantly above the national average; migrants are thereby disadvantaged by a program which forces them to remain within the El Paso jurisdiction,” the report states.

For now, opponents of the Migrant Protection Protocols are waiting on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to make a decision on the program; the court allowed it to continue until it can complete a review of the merits of a lawsuit that claimed the policy should have gone through a public comment period under the Administrative Procedure Act.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, has filed the Asylum Seeker Protection Act to defund the program — but to become law, it would have to get approval from the Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump. Meanwhile, the federal government continues to expand the program: Late Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that MPP will also apply to Brazilians seeking asylum in the United States.

“MPP remains a cornerstone of the Department’s efforts to restore integrity to the U.S. immigration system and relieve the crushing backlog of pending asylum cases. Our nation is more secure because of the program,” a statement from DHS said.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILARThe Texas Tribune

Program offering legal help to asylum seekers stuck in Mexico launches in El Paso and Juárez

CIUDAD JUÁREZ – Nicolas Palazzo can’t clone himself. And even if he could, it would still be impossible for the El Paso-based immigration attorney to provide legal services to the thousands of migrants waiting in the border city for their asylum hearings in the United States.

“Each time I travel to Juárez and cross the bridge, every day I am asked ‘Mr. attorney can you help me? Can you help me?’” he said in Spanish. “And I don’t have the ability to be able to offer [all] of them legal services.”

Palazzo and his team at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center hope that’s about to change with the launch of a pilot program that seeks to provide asylum seekers access to legal counsel via teleconferencing.

The project, called Puentes Libres, will offer asylum seekers access to computers at the municipal offices in Ciudad Juárez where they will be able to submit information about their cases, which will be reviewed by attorneys in the United States.

The project is part of what Palazzo described as a team effort between Las Americas, the Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Ciudad Juárez Mayor Armando Cabada and state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

Since last year, after the launch of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also called Remain in Mexico, more than 16,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Ciudad Juárez while they wait for their court hearings. Palazzo said fewer than 2% of those migrants have access to an attorney.

“The idea of using technology is critical,” he said. “I hope that the idea isn’t just to offer legal service to the people who need it. The idea is also to give a voice to people who are under this program.”

The computers, 50 in total, were donated by the New York-based Hispanic Federation, which has donated more than $300,000 to efforts aiding migrants so far.

“Because of the MPP. We had to do something different to help serve the legal needs of the migrant communities,” said Brent A. Wilkes, the federation’s senior vice president for institutional development. “We said all right that’s something we can take on.”

The program’s proponents know they won’t see a sea change overnight — lawyers need to be recruited and many of them will need to be given a crash course on immigration law if it’s not already their specialty.

“It’s definitely not easy and it’s something we’ve given a lot of thought to,” said Linda Rivas, managing attorney at Las Americas. “The ideal pro bono volunteer is someone with immigration experience and it’s somebody bilingual or that can provide their own interpreter.”

But the benefits outweigh the challenges, Rivas added. Even if volunteer attorneys need training, they’ll still be able to make some progress in a system where asylum seekers’ chances of obtaining protections increase exponentially if they have representation. In fiscal year 2017, the chances of obtaining asylum were five times greater for those who had an attorney, according to the National Immigration Forum.

The program will also offer migrants a chance to describe what it’s like to be in the MPP program, Rivas and Palazzo said. Lawyers and human rights groups have documented the alleged crimes committed against migrants, which attorneys say are downplayed by American immigration officials.

Last summer, Human Rights Watch documented firsthand accounts of violence experienced by asylum seekers in Mexico, including the rape of a 20-year old Honduran woman who was told her 4-year old son would be killed if she screamed for help and a 21-year old Salvadoran man who was stabbed and told local police would not help him because he wasn’t a Mexican citizen.

“The people in the United States, the attorneys, the students, they want to offer help but they also want to know what’s going on and my hope is that creating these sources, these bridges, they’ll also learn about their situations,” Palazzo said.

Rodríguez, who is a former county attorney and is not running for reelection in the state Senate, said he’s going to sign up for the program. He hopes to see the program expand past the Ciudad Juárez – El Paso area.

“We aim, once again, to find a local solution to a draconian federal regime that insists on punishing migrants, including those fleeing persecution and violence, at every opportunity,” he said.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILARThe Texas Tribune

Trump administration to shuttle migrants from Tucson to El Paso under “Remain in Mexico” policy

TUCSON — Department of Homeland Security officials who are concerned about the rising number of migrant families crossing from Mexico into the Arizona desert are preparing to bus them more than 300 miles east into Texas so that they can deposit them in Mexico instead of releasing them in the United States, according to two Trump administration officials.

Homeland Security officials plan to announce as soon as Friday that they will expand the program, called Migrant Protection Protocols, to the Tucson region, one of the last major areas on the border that has not been diverting asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings.

Officials estimate DHS will send at least one busload each day from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector to the Texas border city of El Paso, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal plans. Migrants will have interviews to determine if they would be at risk in Mexico, and if not, will be sent to Ciudad Juárez to await their U.S. immigration court hearings.

The plan follows weeks of brainstorming to fix a weak spot that emerged in the Trump administration’s border crackdown after officials rolled out MPP, also known as “remain in Mexico.” CBP’s Tucson sector, which covers a swath of forbidding desert and cactus forests that encompass most of Arizona’s southern border, was not included in the initial rollout of the policy. Officials began the program in January but substantially expanded it after a federal appeals court ruling allowed it to move forward in May. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on the broader legality of the program.

CBP declined to comment on the expansion, and DHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal officials have credited MPP and increased enforcement in Mexico with a dramatic plunge in border apprehensions in recent months. In September, officials said border crossings had fallen so much that it allowed them to “effectively end” the practice of releasing migrants into the United States to await court hearings. The practice frustrated President Donald Trump because migrants allowed to stay in the United States rarely are deported, even if they lost their bids to stay in the country.

But Border Patrol officials quietly continued releasing border crossers into the Tucson sector, and smugglers caught on, U.S. officials said. As family apprehensions plunged elsewhere, they rose more than 33% from May to October in the Tucson sector, from 1,700 to nearly 2,400. The Wall Street Journal first reported the releases earlier this month.

Federal officials said Tucson lagged behind in the MPP program, mainly because it had received far fewer families crossing the border and was a less urgent target. Family arrivals in Tucson remain far lower than the tens of thousands at other parts of the border earlier this year, particularly in El Paso.

But Tucson’s crossings in October surpassed those in El Paso, which counted 2,100.

More than 200 people — including one large group of 129 people — streamed into remote Sasabe, Arizona, in the Tucson sector, in a span of five hours Saturday night. Babies swaddled in scarves cuddled against their mothers, according to images CBP released.

The migrants were from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The oldest was 56. The youngest was 6 months old.

The influx demonstrates the ability of smuggling networks to identify holes on the border, officials said. Nearly 1 million migrants were taken into custody along the border during the most recent fiscal year, including a record number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America.

Officials said adults traveled with children because they were able to quickly bypass immigration custody and were released to await court hearings.

Advocates for immigrants say migrants’ willingness to trek to the Arizona desert is a sign of their desperation to escape their homelands and that they fear waiting in Mexico’s high-crime border cities for an asylum hearing.

Speaking at a gathering of faith leaders Thursday in Tucson, the Rev. Rodger Babnew said some migrants have come from Matamoros and Ciudad Juárez after learning that they could enter the United States via the Tucson sector. He said criminal cartels have begun shaking down migrants for money along the route.

“They come because they know they will be returned to Mexico,” said Babnew, an Episcopal minister with a nonprofit organization called Cruzando Fronteras, or Crossing Borders, which shelters and provides medical care to migrants on both sides of the border. “People are trying to get to their families before the holidays.”

Pastor Mateo Chavez, who leads a Lutheran church in Tucson, said a Venezuelan man who came to Cruzando Fronteras’ shelter in Nogales, Mexico, told him he had been waiting on the Mexico side of the Matamoros port of entry.

“But he didn’t like what he saw,” Chavez said.

The large shelters in Nogales house hundreds of people who are in the Trump administration’s “metering” program, meaning they sought asylum at a port of entry and are waiting in line to be allowed to enter legally.

Federal officials have credited the MPP program and increased enforcement in Mexico for an 88% drop in family crossings, from 84,486 in May to 9,733 in October.

The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, in western Arizona, implemented the MPP program in April and has seen the number of family members plunge from nearly 11,000 in May to 400 in October.

Yuma, like Tucson, also is unable to send migrants directly across the border via the MPP program because the government of Mexico will not accept them there. Instead, officials are taking migrants west to Calexico, California, and sending them to Mexico from there.

More than 4,800 migrants have been sent from Yuma into Mexico since the program began in April, according to Yuma’s deputy chief patrol agent, Carl Landrum.

Authors:   ARELIS R. HERNÁNDEZ, NICK MIROFF AND MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST

Miroff and Sacchetti reported from Washington.

In El Paso court, migrants no longer get legal advocates or pre-hearing briefings on their rights

After being detained in a U.S. Border Patrol processing facility for more than seven weeks, a young Central American woman was finally able to tell immigration Judge Nathan Herbert the most harrowing part of her journey to the United States.

“I was separated from my daughter. I need to be with her,” the woman, who had requested asylum, told Herbert. “I’ve never been [apart] from her.”

Later, another female asylum seeker asked Herbert if she’d be sent back to Mexico the way several thousand others have been under a program called the Migration Protection Protocols.

Herbert had the same response for both women: “That decision is not mine to make.”

More than three months after the MPP program was expanded to include the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border, confusion about the program still dominates the proceedings in federal immigration court. And attorneys and advocates said the confusion has become worse this week after the government ended the main tools it had used to help migrants navigate a complex judicial system.

In late June, the U.S. Justice Department stopped allowing attorneys or immigrant rights groups to give “know your rights” briefings to asylum seekers before their initial court hearings. The short seminars included overviews of the asylum and removal processes, as well as other topics, like the MPP program.

Then, earlier this week, the department stopped allowing advocates known as “friends of the court” to assist the judge and the asylum seekers during the hearings, immigration attorney Taylor Levy told The Texas Tribune on Monday. Lawyers say the friend of the court program was essential in helping asylum seekers who hadn’t found or couldn’t afford legal representation to understand the asylum process better.

Friends of the court can be lawyers or other people; they are authorized to do things like explain court procedures, help translate for migrants who don’t speak English and relay relevant information to the judge.

Levy, who represents one of the migrants in her family separation case but not in her asylum proceedings, said the move makes the MPP program more confrontational.

“It really feels like MPP couldn’t get much worse, but that’s what is happening,” she said.

On Monday, Mike Breen, the president of Human Rights First — an independent, nonprofit advocacy group — was in the courtroom as an observer and said the chaos was apparent.

“It’s pretty clear that these folks have not been advised of their rights,” he said. “The confusion in the courtroom is palpable. I think the fear in the courtroom is equally palpable.”

Levy and other observers have said Herbert, who was appointed to the bench less than a year ago, is fair and doing his best under the circumstances as the backlog of cases keeps growing and he is forced to walk migrants through the process now that friends of the court are banned.

“The resources that have been devoted to the adjudication system have been cut steadily, so there is a huge backlog of people waiting for their day in court,” Breen said.

Through May, more than 908,500 cases are pending in the country’s immigration courts, including more than 132,200 in Texas, which has the second-highest backlog in the country, after California’s 161,281.

Officials at El Paso’s immigration court referred questions about the changes to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. A spokesperson said the office would be unable to meet the Tribune’s deadline for comment.

Levy said she was told by El Paso court personnel that the friend of the court program was discontinued because of ongoing litigation surrounding the MPP. A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the program April 8, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later put that order on hold while the case plays out.

“We were told we are third parties and are not allowed to serve as friends of court because we’re a third party,” Levy said.

The government’s reasoning for eliminating the know your rights briefings, Levy added, was that asylum seekers are technically in federal detention, and only their attorneys are allowed to speak with them while they are in custody.

She said halting the briefings could violate the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees people access to counsel and knowledge of the charges against them, among other things. Levy said under normal circumstances, she’d be allowed to talk to a person in custody to determine her ability to help with a case.

“I can go to any of the jails or detention centers in the country [now], and I can get in and talk to potential clients,” she said.

But Levy said she was told that if attorneys want to interview asylum seekers to see whom they might want to represent, they have to do it in Mexico.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage

Story in Many Pics: ‘Faith Action’ at Stanton Street Bridge

On Thursday, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso and clergy of the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez participated in the binational ‘Faith Action’ at the Stanton Street bridge in Downtown El Paso.

As the temperatures in the area soared above 100 degrees, Bishiop Seitz, Rev. Javier Calvill  and scores of migrants met and marched under the sweltering summer sun.

At virtually the same time, dueling protest were being held several miles to the east, in front of the now notorious Clint Border Patrol Station.

Our very own Jordyn Rozensky, along with Justin Hamel were at the bridge and event, and we bring your their view via this ‘Story in Many Pics.’

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