Asylum denied: The end of an American dream

Created to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Title 42 has become another US government excuse to block asylum for migrants

Migrants protest for their rights to asylum in the US.
Migrants protest for their rights to asylum in the US.Julius Schlosburg

Walter (not his real name) is a gay hairdresser from El Salvador. Back home, he survived an attempted murder by a gang that severely beat and stabbed him. “I lost everything,” he said, “but I’m alive.” He fled El Salvador and crossed the Sonora desert, in northern Mexico, on foot. Afraid for his life, he turned himself in to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents and applied for asylum. Walter told them why he left El Salvador and showed them his scars, but they deported him to Mexico. His dream is to open a beauty salon in the United States.

Luisa (not her real name) and her 10-year-old son are from Guanajuato, in central Mexico. They fled with only the clothes on their backs from a husband and father who abused them for 12 years. Shortly after their escape, a relative was murdered. Luisa thinks her husband did it in retaliation for something connected to organized crime. She is very afraid and feels unsafe in Mexico. She dreams of being granted asylum in the United States, and wants to start a new and violence-free life with her son.

Rita (not her real name) is 30 years old and comes from Nicaragua, where she risked imprisonment by speaking out against government repression. She fled the country and made it across the US-Mexico border, where she turned herself in to the CBP. She was sent to Nogales, Mexico, and was assaulted twice on the way. She wants to apply for asylum in the US.

I am writing from Nogales, Mexico, a migration hotspot that straddles the border with the United States. I volunteer with an organization that provides comprehensive assistance to migrants, such as shelter, food, clothing, work, psychological counseling and health care. We also collaborate with other organizations to provide legal guidance to migrants, and to advocate for more just and humane policies for forced migrants.

Unfortunately, Walter, Luisa, Rita and many other forced migrants fleeing organized crime, gender-based violence and political persecution don’t have much chance of obtaining asylum in the United States right now.

The Trump administration implemented policies that obstructed international protections and infringed on the right to asylum. The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico,” required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications were being adjudicated. MMP led to the expulsion of thousands of people, mostly from Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, and put them in grave danger. The Human Rights First watchdog organization documented more than 1,500 attacks and kidnappings of migrants in Mexican border cities. Fortunately, the Biden administration announced the end of the “Remain in Mexico” policy in early August.

But international protections and the right to asylum continue to be threatened under Title 42, the legislation enacted in 2020 that closed the borders to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Today, Title 42 continues to be used to prevent forced migrants from seeking international protection, with very few exceptions. On April 1, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its decision to end Title 42 as of May 23, saying that it was no longer needed for pandemic containment. However, the states of Arizona, Louisiana, and Missouri sued the CDC in a Louisiana district court to maintain Title 42, and other Republican-led states subsequently joined the lawsuit. A district judge ultimately ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, so Title 42 remains in effect.

US ports of entry are still closed, and migrants who make it across the border are sent back without an asylum hearing. Title 42 has led to the deportation of two million people to Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and other countries. According to Human Rights First, more than 10,000 people have been “kidnapped, murdered, tortured, raped and violently attacked” after being deported to Mexico.

Social and human rights organizations, including the Kino Border Initiative, are demanding that the US and Mexican governments establish legal and safe migration channels, provide protection and safety for forced migrants in Mexico, and reestablish the right to asylum by eliminating Title 42. Furthermore, humane policies and treatment of migrants are needed to prevent the numerous abuses and rights violations by authorities, such as mistreatment, confiscation of belongings, and nighttime deportations of adults and minors. In addition, since many forced migrants are stranded in border cities, we are calling for a culture of hospitality in these cities so that they can have access to health care and education, and safely work and live in dignity.

Meanwhile, Walter, Luisa, Rita and so many others continue to wait for their asylum applications to be resolved, so they can enter the United States and start new lives.

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