The Trump administration wants to make migrants who pass through another nation before entering the U.S. at its southern border ineligible for asylum, the Associated Press reported Monday. The effort would disqualify most asylum seekers who did not first seek safe haven in another country before crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, including unaccompanied children.
The AP reported that there would be exceptions to the rule, which was published in the Federal Register and is expected to take effect Tuesday. Migrants would still be eligible for asylum if they had been trafficked, for example, or if they sought asylum in another country but were denied.
The rule, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, is an effort to crack down on what the Trump administration says are “meritless” claims of asylum from tens of thousands of people who have exploited current law, according to the text.
“By deterring meritless asylum claims and de-prioritizing the applications of individuals who could have obtained protection in another country, the Departments seek to ensure that those refugees who have no alternative to U.S.-based asylum relief or have been subjected to an extreme form of human trafficking are able to obtain relief more quickly,” the text states. “Additionally, the rule seeks to curtail the humanitarian crisis created by human smugglers bringing men, women, and children across the southern border.”
The American Civil Liberties Union promised immediate legal action to halt the policy.
“The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country’s legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This new rule is patently unlawful and we will sue swiftly.”
Other efforts by the Trump administration to change asylum policy — like denying asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or detaining migrants while their cases are decided — have been blocked.
The latest policy is an attempt to reduce a surge of unaccompanied children and family units — mostly Central Americans seeking asylum — crossing into Texas and other states on the southern border. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said that through June, U.S. Border Patrol agents had apprehended more than 688,000 undocumented immigrants, an increase of about 140% from last year, a DHS spokesperson said.
The two most heavily used routes go through El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. From October, when the federal government’s 2019 fiscal year began, through June, more than 27,800 unaccompanied children and about 166,000 family units were apprehended by or surrendered to Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector — an increase of 60% and 293% from 2018, respectively. In the El Paso sector, which also includes New Mexico, about 14,600 unaccompanied children and 117,600 family units were apprehended. That’s an increase of 267% and 1,759% from 2018, respectively.
The new rule could also add to the current logjam of asylum seekers and other refugees in certain Mexican border cities that have to accept asylum seekers under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, known as “remain in Mexico.” The program began in California in January and was expanded to the El Paso ports of entry in March. It expanded to the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo border in South Texas last week.
Through July 11, more than 9,300 people had been returned to Ciudad Juárez under the program, according to Chihuahua state officials. About 36% are from Guatemala, 29% are from Honduras, 16% are from El Salvador and the rest from other countries, including Cuba.
On Friday, Enrique Valenzuela, director of Ciudad Juárez’s Centro de Atención a Migrantes, a migrant transition facility operated by the Chihuahua state government, said state and local officials are trying to quickly find more shelter space in the border city as the number of migrants returned or waiting to apply for asylum grows.
Members of Congress and immigrant advocates have also criticized the conditions that many migrants are facing while detained in Border Patrol processing centers in the United States. Migrant men at a McAllen center hadn’t showered in “10 or 20” days, according to accounts from reporters who accompanied Vice President Mike Pence on a tour of the facility Friday.
A surge of migrants arriving at the Texas-Mexico border has pushed the country’s immigration system to the breaking point as new policies aimed at both undocumented immigrants and legal asylum seekers have contributed to a humanitarian crisis. The Texas Tribune is maintaining its in-depth reporting on this national issue.
The Trump administration is opening a new 2,500-bed holding facility for adult migrants here, constructing a large soft-sided structure close to the U.S.-Mexico border on the former site of a controversial shelter for migrant children, officials said Friday.
Roger Maier, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, confirmed that work to build the facility began this week. He said it will be designed to hold single adults who have crossed the border and have been taken into custody — it will not hold family units or unaccompanied children — and that it will “provide relief for overcrowded Border Patrol” stations as the agency awaits transferring the migrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
“CBP anticipates populating the facility in late July or early August,” Maier said.
The new adult holding facility is being built at the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry, about 30 miles southeast of El Paso. The port is named after Serna, a Mexican immigrant who lived in El Paso and as a U.S. Army soldier became a decorated World War I hero.
That port was the home of a temporary shelter for unaccompanied migrant children from June 2018 to January 2019. It held more than 2,700 children at its peak in December, drawing repeated protests and becoming a focal point for critics of the administration’s border policies.
The child shelter closed in January after the Trump administration loosened some requirements it had created for potential sponsors offering to care for unaccompanied migrant children. A short time later, a large surge of Central American children began arriving at the border, and the administration expanded a temporary child facility in Homestead, Fla., and opened a new one recently in Carrizo Springs.
CBP officials said single adults at the new facility will be provided three daily meals, showers, medical services, laundry, custodial services and temperature controls.
Such CBP facilities in the past have been used to house migrants for less than 72 hours, but that has changed in recent months as the number of families crossing the border grew. Migrants have been held for weeks or months in facilities not designed to hold them that long, drawing increasing criticism from congressional Democrats.
Vice President Pence visited such a facility in McAllen on Friday, seeing hundreds of migrants crammed behind caged fences, some who said they were hungry, thirsty or were in need of a shower. Some said they had been there a month or longer. Squalid conditions at border facilities have drawn widespread concern as the migrant flow across the border has surged to more 100,000 per month this year, at times overwhelming the U.S. immigration system.
The new holding facility in Tornillo came as a surprise to Georgina Pérez, a member of the State Board of Education who lives here. She said residents had not been notified that the facility was under construction and was staffing up.
“It’s 2019, and we’re still treating some people as less than human,” said Pérez, a Democrat who was a critic of the child detention facility.
Border crossings fell 28 percent from May to June, something the Trump administration attributes to increased Mexican immigration enforcement and U.S. policies aimed at deterring migration. It is unclear whether that decline will be part of a trend, and with construction of new facilities, it appears the U.S. government is preparing for the influx to continue.
In the heat of an El Paso June day, approximately 200 protesters gathered to challenge child detention and cheer on presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke.
With cars parked up to a 1/4 mile away and a hoard of press in attendance, local El Paso politicians spoke out against child detention before welcoming O’Rourke.
Roughly five counter-protesters chanted from across the street. When they crossed to be closer, they were met with mostly annoyance.
Their chants of “finish the wall” were met by responses of “we are the wall” from individuals who blocked their approach.
O’Rourke took to the stage, pausing for selfies and handshakes as he snaked through the crowd. “Thank you for bearing witness to what is happening in our name, right now, in the United States of America,” he began.
“The only way this is going to get better, the only way that it is going to change, the only way that you can really be here for these kids is to be here right now for those kids and to share with our fellow Americans just what is being done in our name.”
O’Rourke called the detention of immigrant the largest incarceration of children who had not been convicted of a crime in American history – second only the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Prior to his arrival at Clint, O’Rourke and his team visited with families at Casa Del Migrante, the largest shelter for migrants in Juarez.
There they spoke to families and individuals who had been sent to Mexico to await their court date, including a 19-year-old woman who was separated from her parents and younger siblings.
Of the experience, O’Rourke shared “We met people, our fellow human beings, who are leaving some of the most horrific conditions that you can imagine.
The O’Rourke campaign released a statement yesterday, reading, “Earlier this year, O’Rourke released a sweeping immigration plan to immediately end family separation and reunite those already separated, protect asylum seekers, create a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people and make naturalization easier for 9 million eligible immigrants, establish a first-of-its-kind community-based visa, and only require detention for those with criminal backgrounds who represent a danger to our communities. His plan would also more than double U.S. investment in Central America to address the violence and instability in the Northern Triangle driving so many families to flee.”
Author and Photos by – Jordyn Rozensky / Frontera Studio – El Paso Herald Post
A group of 250 infants, children and teens has reportedly spent 27 days without adequate food, water and sanitation at a U.S. Border Patrol facility near El Paso, according to the Associated Press.
Several attorneys who visited the station said they found at least 15 children sick with the flu, some of whom were being kept in medical quarantine. They described seeing a sick and diaper-less 2-year-old boy whose “shirt was smeared in mucus.” Three girls, from the ages of 10 to 15, were taking turns watching him.
The allegedly dangerous and unsanitary conditions reported from inside the El Paso-area shelter are just some of the many accusations that have surfaced from detention facilities in recent months.
In June, the Office of Inspector General released a report detailing concerns about detainee treatment at four Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities across the country.
Inspectors found nooses in cells, expired food and inadequate medical care in California, New Jersey, Louisiana and Colorado.
“These are not independent, isolated incidents,” Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, told The Texas Tribune late Thursday. “These are part of a major strategy that is violating the rights of children and families.”
The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens will host an exhibit showcasing art created by teenagers from various Central and South American countries who were held in a secured tent city in Tornillo, a small town of about 1,600 people about 40 miles southeast of El Paso.
“Uncaged Art: Tornillo Children’s Detention Camp,” is a multi-sensory exhibit based on art that the teenagers created during their confinement.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services detained more than 6,000 teenagers from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other Central and South American countries from June 2018 through January 2019 in the temporary detention center on the eastern fringe of El Paso County.
Among the witnesses who stood vigil outside the camp was Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Ph.D., associate professor of history and director of UTEP’s Institute of Oral History. She would go on her days off out of concern for the welfare of those unaccompanied minors in the camp.
Leyva said a camp source told her that social studies teachers assigned to the shelter gave a four-day art project that the children could do individually or in groups. The only instructions given to the detainees was to think of their home communities. She said the teenagers created hundreds of drawings, sketches, paintings, dresses and sculptures that involved birds, parks, churches and a soccer field.
Camp officials judged the art and decided which pieces to display around the camp.
When the government decided to close the site in January 2019, workers began to discard the artwork. A Catholic priest from El Paso who served the children asked the caretakers for a chance to find someone who might want the art. He called Leyva, a co-founder of El Paso’s Museo Urbano, a community museum near Downtown El Paso that researches and preserves borderland history.
Leyva said the priest hoped that the museum and UTEP might be able to protect the art. After consultation with Denis O’Hearn, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Leyva agreed to store the artwork at UTEP.
“With our mission of access and excellence … and our mission to engage with our community on both sides of the border, we have created a sense of trust where people in the community feel that they can entrust us with their most valued objects,” he said. “This is something that other universities in the U.S. rarely have. It makes UTEP special and we cannot ever lose this.”
The exhibit sponsors are UTEP, the Centennial Museum, the Hope Border Institute, Museo Urbano, the renowned muralists Los Dos, and UTEP’s departments of Theatre & Dance and Facilities Management.
The show opens April 13, 2019, with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. The exhibit closes October 5, 2019.
The tent city popped up over the summer, about 40 miles from El Paso, as the U.S. government sought more space to hold hundreds of unaccompanied teenagers caught crossing the Rio Grande from places like Honduras and Guatemala.
It was supposed to be a temporary solution, but a one-month contract to operate the camp stretched to two months, then three, then into the holidays as its population swelled.
After holding more than 6,000 immigrant teenagers over its seven-month lifespan, the controversial detention center — which drew a steady stream of protestors and fact-finding members of Congress who took tours and denounced what they saw — saw the last of its detainees leave last week. Many were placed with family members or other sponsors in the U.S. while others were sent to different facilities to continue their detention.
In this report, CityLab explores life inside Tornillo, its place in the history of American detention camps and what the place symbolized for the people who call that corner of West Texas home.
A Texas congressman said Friday that the federal government has officially removed all children from the Tornillo detention center for undocumented migrant youths, ending more than half a year of operation for a facility that was decried by critics as a “tent city” and served as a symbol of President Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose West Texas district includes Tornillo, announced the closure on Twitter, saying he had been told about it by the facility’s management.
“This tent city should never have stood in the first place, but it is welcome news that it will be gone,” Hurd said.
BREAKING: I just talked with the management at the Tornillo facility – the last kid just left. This tent city should never have stood in the first place but it is welcome news that it will be gone.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the center, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The hasty closure comes after Texas-based contractor BCFS Health and Human Services and the federal government originally signed a 30-day contract to operate the facility in June. That contract was extended multiple times, despite BCFS officials arguing that the center was not a long-term solution.
The organization’s president, Kevin Dinnin, told Vice News on Friday that he sent the federal government a letter in December saying the facility wouldn’t accept any more children. The government began taking steps to close Tornillo soon after, Vice reported.
“We as an organization finally drew the line,” Dinnin told Vice. “You can’t keep taking children in and not releasing them.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the pending closure this week. As of Tuesday, there were still 850 children being held in the facility. The department said at the time that it expected the vast majority of the children at the facility to be released “to a suitable sponsor by the end of the month.”
At one time, the facility held more than 2,500 children. It has been the site of numerous protests, drawing politicians from across the country to Texas to urge the Trump administration to shut it down.
News of the closure was applauded by many of those politicians, along with immigrant rights groups.
“Tornillo was a symbol of this administration’s deep inhumanity as shown by their willingness to hold tens of thousands of migrant children in detention,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
MEXICO CITY — While President Trump regularly berates Mexico for “doing nothing” to stop illegal migration, behind the scenes the two governments are considering a deal that could drastically curtail the cross-border migration flow.
The proposal, known as a “safe third country agreement,” would potentially require asylum seekers transiting through Mexico to apply for protection in that nation rather than in the United States. It would allow U.S. border guards to turn back such asylum seekers at border crossings and quickly return to Mexico anyone who has already entered illegally seeking refuge, regardless of their nationality.
U.S. officials believe this type of deal would discourage many Central American families from trying to reach the United States. Their soaring numbers have strained U.S. immigration courts and overwhelmed the U.S. government’s ability to detain them. The Trump administration says the majority are looking for jobs — rather than fleeing persecution — and are taking advantage of American generosity to gain entry and avoid deportation.
“We believe the flows would drop dramatically and fairly immediately” if the agreement took effect, said a senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations with the Mexican government, which the official said had gathered momentum in recent weeks.
The proposed agreement has divided the Mexican government and alarmed human rights activists who maintain that many of the migrants are fleeing widespread gang violence and could be exposed to danger in Mexico.
The possible accord is likely to be discussed this week at high-level meetings in Latin America. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday with foreign ministers from Central America and Mexico in Guatemala City. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit Mexico City on Friday.
On the surface, such an agreement would appear difficult for Mexico. The number of Central Americans claiming asylum in Mexico has risen sharply in recent years, and many analysts warn that the country does not have the capacity to settle fresh waves of people. Last year, Mexico’s refugee agency failed to attend to more than half of the 14,000 asylum applications it received, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.
Critics of the plan say that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government should not reach a deal at a time when the Trump administration has used tactics as separating migrant parents from their children at the border.
“It’s ridiculous,” said one Mexican official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Nobody really knows what it is we’re getting in return.”
Even so, some Mexican officials have warmed to the idea.
They argue that requiring Central Americans to apply for asylum in Mexico would undercut the smuggling networks that charge fees of $10,000 or more for a journey from Central America to the United States.
The senior DHS official said the U.S. government has signaled to Mexico that it would be prepared to offer significant financial aid to help the country cope with a surge of asylum seekers, at least in the short term. The investment, which would be paid through the U.S. security-assistance plan for Mexico, the Merida Initiative,would quickly pay for itself, the DHS official argued.
“Look at the amount of money spent on border security, on courts, on detention and immigration enforcement,” the senior official said. “It’d be pennies on the dollar to support Mexico in this area.”
Such an agreement could also allow Mexico’s government to develop its capacity to settle asylum seekers and improve its battered international reputation by taking a public stance in favor of human rights, according to supporters.
“Mexico is interested [in] addressing the fact that both the United States and Mexico have experienced a significant increase in the number of asylum and refugee requests and that a large number of Central American nationals enter Mexico with the intent to reach the United States,” Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico’s ambassador to Washington, said in an emailed statement. “We have engaged the U.S. government in conversations about this matter in order to identify possible areas of cooperation, but we have not reach any conclusion.”
The U.S. government has had a “safe third country” agreement with Canadasince 2004, preventing migrants from transiting through that country to apply for asylum in the United States.
But violence has reached record levels in Mexico, and the border states are particularly dangerous, which could put migrants at risk if U.S. authorities began busing Central Americans back into Mexico.
The State Department’s travel advisories warn U.S. citizens against visiting parts of Mexico, including the border state of Tamaulipas.
“Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread” in the state, a warning from March said.
“It’s one thing to say we’re going to have a safe third-country agreement with Canada,” said Roberta Jacobson, who left her post as U.S. ambassador to Mexico this spring. “It’s another thing to say you’re safe and well as soon as you cross the Guatemalan border into Mexico.”
It might seem surprising that Mexico and the United States are in negotiations at all on migration. Relations between the countries have slumped to their lowest point in years, with the United States threatening to dump the North American Free Trade Agreement and Mexico leading a push recently at the Organization of American States to condemn the Trump administration’s family separation practices as “cruel and inhumane.”
But DHS officials believe they have a window to secure a deal in the lame-duck phase of Peña Nieto’s administration, which ends on Dec. 1. Some on the Mexican side see such an accord as a possible valuable chit in broader negotiations over tariffs and the future of North American free trade.
Under U.S. asylum laws, applicants can generally make a claim only once they are on American soil. That can occur at an airport or a land or sea port of entry and is known as an “affirmative asylum” claim.
But the process can also be initiated by someone who seeks to avoid deportation after crossing illegally, and such “defensive asylum” claims account for the majority of those filed by Central Americans taken into custody along the border. The courts received 119,144 defensive asylum applications in 2017, up from 68,530 in 2016 and just 13,214 in 2008.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border this spring attempted to deter the practice by charging anyone crossing illegally with a federal crime, regardless of whether the person planned to claim asylum. Those criminal proceedings were the mechanism used to separate migrant parents from their children, until Trump’s executive order suspended the practice last month.
“I think the U.S. is looking at a wide range of ways to deter people from coming or to block them entirely, and this would be one way to outsource many of the issues related to migrants and asylum seekers to our southern neighbor,” said Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a migrant advocacy group.
Arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border — a barometer of overall illegal crossings — had plunged in the months after Trump’s inauguration but began climbing again last summer. A sudden surge this spring infuriated the president, who leveled his anger at Nielsen.
She broached the “safe third country” agreement when she visited Mexico in mid-April. But she received contradictory signals from Mexican counterparts, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.
Mexican officials say the plan has divided Peña Nieto’s government. Some in the Foreign Ministry who want to improve ties with the United States remain in favor of at least a pilot project, while others in the Interior Ministry, who would have to handle resettling thousands of Central Americans, stand opposed, officials said.
The winner of the July 1 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has yet to weigh in publicly on the issue. Roberto Velasco, a spokesman for the incoming foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said that the new administration does not “have a position yet since we don’t know the details of the proposal or the negotiations between the two countries.”
Authors: JOSHUA PARTLOW AND NICK MIROFF, THE WASHINGTON POST
Under a rapidly-warming West Texas Sunday morning, amidst the green fields that surround the Marcelino Serna Port of Entry, a group on nearly 2000 protesters, along with local, national and international press, marched on the newly-opened tent camp housing children of immigrants who were rounded up as a result of the Trump Administration’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy on illegal entry to the U.S.
The Tornillo Tent Camp, named for the town that lies some two miles to the north of the Port of Entry, and almost 4o miles east of El Paso, is at the center of the immigration debate, as the children being kept in the tents and portable buildings at the facility have all been separated from their parents, who attempted to enter the US illegally.
Organized by Congressman Robert ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, who is also running for the Texas Senate Seat held by Ted Cruz, the march featured local leaders including former El Paso County Judge turned Congressional candidate herself Veronica Escobar and Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who represents Massachusetts.
The group marched a short distance from the Tornillo/Guadalupe toll lanes and back; originally intending to meet closer to the bridge, near the ‘Tree of Mirrors’ sculpture, the protesters were not allowed to get that close.
With a handful of security guards mixed in with Customs and Border Protection Agents, they formed a loose line at the gate leading to the bridge, however the group and the guards got no closer than 50 or so yards.
With Texas DPS Officers and El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputies looking on, the group chanted, held protest signs and walked arm-in-arm, never getting within visual distance of the tent city or the children housed there.
Under the watchful eyes of several buzzing drones, and at least one group of CBP Agents who took up a station on top of a building in front of the tent city, the group sang the National Anthem, prayed and listened to speakers for almost an hour.
Gallery by Andres Acosta, Chief Photographer, El Paso Herald-Post.