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Amnesty Ireland calls for US to 'follow its own laws' as crisis unfolds at Mexico border

The US launched an effort to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through US immigration courts.

Image: Amnesty International.

AMNESTY IRELAND HAS described the impact of US policy on asylum seekers and migrants at the US-Mexico border as a humanitarian crisis for those seeking asylum. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie from the border, Amnesty Ireland’s executive director, Colm O’Gorman, said that the US’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is punishing people who present themselves at the border legally. 

On Tuesday, the Trump administration launched an effort to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through US immigration courts, despite clear reservations and conflicting messages from the Mexican government.

The US returned one asylum seeker to Mexico — a Honduran man — on the first day of what would be one of the most dramatic changes to the US immigration system of Donald Trump’s presidency if the policy survives an anticipated legal challenge. 

O’Gorman said that the Honduran man’s return to Mexico was particularly “disturbing” as it was all done in the full glare of the media.  

“What’s extraordinary is that US government is saying that this man has a credible asylum claim to make yet in the full glare of media scrutiny they’ve identified him sent him to Mexico.

“We’ve seen many cases in Mexico of migrants and refugees who have fled persecution, be it from governments or criminal gangs in Central America, who have been pursued by their persecutors to Mexico,” O’Gorman said. 

The Amnesty Ireland executive director travelled to the border as part of a delegation to monitor the impact of US policy on asylum seekers and migrants travelling to the US-Mexico border.

group 2 at border

To get a sense of what is faced by those seeking asylum, O’Gorman along without other Amnesty delegates accompanied three Honduran teenagers to the border crossing. 

“On Monday evening, we accompanied three minor children about 16 and 17-years-old and all LGBT. 

“We accompanied them as they tried to get to the US border to present themselves and seek asylum. We wanted to see whether or not these children would be allowed, as they should be by US law, to approach the border and seek asylum.

“We managed to get them to the turnstile that marks the end of the Mexican territory controlled by US border control agents. The officers refused to let them pass because they did not have any documentation and refused to engage with us,” he said. 

At one point when Mexican officials got involved the Amnesty delegates were told if they and the boys did not leave, the boys would be taken into protective custody, which meant they would be returned to their own country. 

We refused to go and we refused to hand over the boys and eventually after about two hours they were allowed to cross over the border and claim asylum. 

O’Gorman said that right now, despite the small numbers that are being accepted over the border, as of Monday it was taking 721 days from the point of application to conclude a case.

Trump says how it’s a security and humanitarian crisis at the border, frankly, it’s a crisis that’s manufactured by them, their policies and their approach. The Obama administration is in no way blameless for some of the legacy issues that exist at the border right now.

“There is a security and humanitarian crisis but it’s a crisis for the migrants and refugees that are stuck in Tijuana, which is the murder capital of Mexico,” O’Gorman said. 

On Monday, US Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a memo to employees that asylum officers would interview migrants to determine if they are “more likely than not” to be persecuted or tortured in Mexico while waiting for hearings in the US. If they are not, they will be returned to Mexico.

Asylum seekers will not be allowed to have attorneys at that initial screening held at border crossings “given the limited capacity and resources”.

O’Gorman said that lawyers he has spoken to on the ground have said people who are seeking asylum legally are being punished and that it’s “all about how you arrive”.

“If you enter the US on a tourist visa, overstay and then present yourself to seek asylum you’re less likely to be detained. Whereas if you present yourself at the border to claim asylum you’re almost guaranteed to be detained for before your case is resolved.”

According to O’Gorman, the US administration seems to be punishing people who arrive lawfully, driving people into the hands of smugglers. 

No one is suggesting that the US doesn’t have the right to decide on migration policy and who they bring into their country, but US law is really clear about the right of people to seek asylum if they have a credible fear of persecution.

“What we’re campaigning for is not for the US to enact new laws but rather for the US to honour its own,” he said. 

‘Methodical commonsense’

Due largely to a court-imposed 20-day limit on detaining children, families are typically released in the US with a notice to appear in immigration court. With a backlog of more than 800,000 cases, it can take years to settle cases, giving rise to what the administration calls “catch and release.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last week that the “migrant protection protocols” being introduced in San Diego are a “methodical commonsense” approach to what she calls a humanitarian and security crisis on the Mexican border.

“For far too long, our immigration system has been exploited by smugglers, traffickers and those who have no legal right to remain in the United States,” she said.

Children travelling alone and Mexican asylum seekers will be exempt from the programme, as will “criminals,” people with a “history of violence” and those with physical or mental health issues, according to guidelines issued on Tuesday by Customs and Border Protection.

Customs and Border Protection said asylum seekers would be given a sheet with information on the process and a list of free or low-cost legal service providers. US authorities will provide transportation between the border and the courtroom.

With reporting from AP 

About the author:

Adam Daly

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