At the beginning of this month, a group of NMILC’s staff and attorneys went to El Paso/Juarez for two days to volunteer with Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s (CLINIC) Asylum Project to provide legal aide to migrants under MPP. While there, our volunteer services consisted of three major components: “know your rights” presentations, individual consultations, and accompanying families as they crossed the border to present themselves. It was an opportunity to not only provide information and assistance for asylum seekers under MPP, but to see the consequences of this policy firsthand.
After arriving to Juarez the first day, the sprawling tents we witnessed alongside the border made the consequences of MPP more real. These tent communities were filled with migrants waiting anxiously for their next day in court in El Paso, TX or for a chance to present themselves at the border. Once meeting with a CLINIC official, we were taken to a shelter housing migrants in a repurposed warehouse run by the Mexican government. After receiving a tour of the shelter’s operations, we were split into groups with one group staying in the shelter giving know your rights presentations/legal consultations and the other group accompanying the families as they crossed border. That same afternoon two of our attorneys were able accompany three families, consisting of 13 people in total, cross the border to present themselves for asylum after a lengthy interaction with CBP and Mexican border authorities. This accompaniment was needed because CBP refused to allow the families to cross because they claimed that there was no space in the temporary holding facility. On top of that Mexican authorities were threatening the family with arrest for loitering on the bridge. Our attorneys had to advocate with both Mexican and US authorities until the family members were allowed to enter the US.
On the second day, two teams traveled to different parts of the city, with one team visiting the Pan de Vida shelter to give know your rights presentations and legal consultations while the other group went to the Casa del Migrante shelter to specifically work on legal consultations. The day ended with presentations and individual consultations at the tent community near the Zaragoza bridge port of entry.
It was clear to all of us that MPP was creating a hazardous situation at the border. During our time in Juarez we saw migrants (many of whom were single mothers and unaccompanied minors) from Central America, parts of Mexico, and Cuba all expressing fear of remaining in Mexico. One of the shelters we visited had already been targeted by kidnappers, and there was a general worry of leaving the shelter at any point of the day. Two staff members that visited the Casa del Migrante shelter saw individuals preparing to return back to Honduras, forgoing the long wait of uncertainty. Others mentioned during legal their consultations about the abuse and violence they had faced traveling across Mexico.
In addition to MPP, earlier this month the Supreme Court allowed the Trump Administration to enforce a regulation that renders most migrants ineligible for asylum if they traveled through a third country on their way to the U.S.-Mexico border. These restrictions and barriers have caused many to resort to protests like in the border city of Matamoros where migrants camped out and occupied a bridge, subsequently shutting it down. We will continue advocating for the rights of migrants and to assist organizations that aid in this effort. If you wish to learn more about CLINIC’s services click here.