2019 ending but asylum barriers, deportation and danger continue

December 10, 2019 — We are reaching the end of 2019 and many of the concerns flagged by human rights and migrants’ rights advocates throughout the year have indeed materialized into policies that will have implications into 2020 and beyond. 

US Asylum Blockade: agreement with Guatemala moves forward

This week, three individuals, (two from Honduras and one from El Salvador) who had sought asylum in the US were sent to Guatemala in accordance with the new agreement between the two countries. These individuals were sent from Mesa, Arizona on a flight with others being deported. Of the three, two opted to seek asylum in Guatemala and the third, a Honduran man, accepted voluntary repatriation to his home country.  This is the latest step in a slow, almost imperceptible set of steps making implementation of the asylum agreement a done deal, despite the fact that it has not been ratified by Congress. Little is known about the fate of the two people who remain in Guatemala.   

The pain of anti-migrant policies in the US

Last week, ProPública released a video revealing the negligence of US migration authorities in the death of a Guatemalan teenager, Carlos Gregorio Hernández, in May, 2019. Carlos was the sixth migrant child to die in border patrol custody in less than a year.  This painful video is another example of the horrifying and inhumane policies of the Trump Administration.

Another anti-migrant policy that is causing irreperable harm to families and children is the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), known as “Remain in Mexico”. A report from Human Rights First revealed 636 cases of assaults against people returned to Mexico under this program.  Of these, 138 were attempted kidnappings of migrant children, according to the report. The report also noted that around 70,000 people who seek asylum in the United States have been returned to Mexico so far this year.

We also learned this week that an uptick in violence in Mexico is driving more Mexicans to the northern border in hopes of seeking asylum in the United States.  These individuals are waiting at the border in makeshift refugee camps that lack even minimum standards of health or sanitation.  The Mexican government has committed to detain migrants in transit, but they cannot stop their own nationals who are fleeing violence and networks of organized crime. 

Africans in Transit move toward US 

The use of the Central America–Mexico–US migration corridor by Africans seeking refuge in the United States is described vividly in a new report in El Faro, which also paints a shocking picture of poverty and inequality in Guatemala.  One group of African migrants that had been apprehended in Chiapas had been camped out in front of the “Siglo XXI” migration station in Tapachula since August.  Mexican authorities had tried to deny them entry, and push them to return to Guatemala, but the Africans remained and continued to pressure authorities to grant them a permit that would allow them to move through Mexico and attempt to enter the United States and request asylum.  Finally, last week, the Mexican authorities acceded to their demands and issued documents that allowed them to leave Chiapas and move northward. The  The Mexican government justified its decision by declaring this group of African migrants “stateless” and granting them permanent residency cards that would also enable them to live and work in Mexico if they so choose.  Another group of around 200 individuals who arrived more recently still remains in limbo as to whether they will receive the same treatment.  If the African asylum seekers do reach the northern border, their trials will be far from over. They can expect another three to four month wait due to metering policies that severely limit the number of asylum seeker per day.  Once they are given an interview, they could be returned to Mexico under MPP or sent to Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador, under the new asylum agreements. If sent to Central America, they will have to choose between seeking asylum in one of those countries, accepting voluntary return, or seeking permanent residency there.  

Discontent and Inequity in Latin America

The year ends with expressions of discontent in a number of Latin American countries, where people have taken to the streets to express their rejection of the current economic and political models.  A new UNDP report suggests that this surge of protest can be linked to growing inequalities and inequities in these countries. The most recent report from the OECD PISA program, which measures education quality all over the world, confirms that social discontent is linked to concrete inequities, and that those patterns start in schools.  

Sentencing in the murder of  Berta Cáceres

The Court of Justice in Honduras sentenced seven people in the assassination of Honduran environmentalist and land-defender Berta Cáceres, to 30-50 years in prison. Berta Cáceres was the Coordinator of the Council of Grassroots Indigenous organizations in Honduras  era la Coordinadora del Consejo de Organizaciones Populares de Pueblos (COPINH).  The murder took place in March, 2016, so this long-awaited sentencing is an important milestone in the ongoing struggle against impunity in Honduras. 

Changes coming in 2020? 

Elections in the US in 2020 will shape the future for immigrants and Latinos in the US for years to come.  The much-touted Latino vote could make a difference, but there are many unknowns. This article, by Oscar Chacón, explores some of the challenges and opportunities in 2020. 

As we weigh all these elements at year-end, the inescapable conclusion is that 2019 will leave us with a serious erosion of asylum protections in the US and a growing role for Mexico as a country of migrant apprehension, detention, and deportation.  At the same time, the conditions in Central America and in Mexico have not changed, so we can expect individuals, children, and families to continue to flee in search of safety and dignity.