• Press Release

After observing asylum hearings, Amnesty International calls to stop illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers to Mexico

April 11, 2019

The US government must immediately halt its illegal pushbacks of thousands of asylum seekers at the border with Mexico and instead facilitate their prompt reception and the processing of their cases under US law, said Amnesty International today during a visit to the border.

“Pushbacks violate international law, and US authorities are forcing thousands of people who are seeking asylum to wait on the Mexican side of the border for months both before and after receiving their requests for protection. The courts are playing a vital role in limiting abuses of power by US authorities, but most of those seeking asylum still lack adequate access to justice and continue to suffer wholesale violations of their rights,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

From April 8 to 10, Amnesty International monitored the hearings of 28 asylum cases in San Diego, involving 31 adults and 26 children whom US authorities had forcibly returned to Mexico under the “Remain in Mexico” policy since late January. During their hearings, over 40 percent of them proactively expressed their fears of return to Mexico.

Amnesty International identified serious shortcomings in the proceedings resulting from the “Remain in Mexico” policy, including widespread lack of access to attorneys for those forcibly returned to Mexico during their proceedings. In only one of the cases that Amnesty International monitored had the people seeking asylum successfully secured legal representation.

Amnesty International also interviewed eight adults and three children in Tijuana, whom US authorities had forcibly returned to Mexico after they requested asylum. Several of them expressed fears that they could face harm in Mexico while waiting for their hearings.

“I don’t feel safe to be here. Anything can happen, because I’m Honduran. The police here are very corrupt, and they steal the money of lots of people,” said Josue, a 53-year-old man from Honduras.

On April, 8 a US federal court issued a preliminary injunction barring the further implementation of “Remain in Mexico,” also known as the “migrant protection protocol,”  under which US authorities have forcibly returned more than 1,300 asylum seekers to Mexico before the final adjudication of their asylum claims. Nonetheless, hundreds of people who are still waiting in Mexico for their court hearings in the US are stuck in legal limbo – and potentially dangerous situations.

Illegal asylum waitlist under US ‘metering’ policy

In addition to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, US and Mexican authorities are also forcing asylum seekers to wait for weeks or months on an illegal asylum waitlist before allowing them to request protection, which some said has put them in danger.

Manuel, a 29-year-old man from El Salvador who was forcibly returned to Mexico after requesting asylum, said Mexican police detained him and stole his money and phone the day before his number came up on the illegal waitlist, after weeks of waiting his turn in Tijuana.

The waitlist is held by a small group of asylum seekers during the day, and then by Mexican authorities at night. As of April 9, there were approximately 4,460 names on the list in Tijuana, approximately 40 to 45 percent of whom were Mexican nationals, whom neither US nor Mexican officials can legally prohibit from requesting asylum at the US border.

By forcing thousands of Mexican nationals to wait in Mexico for weeks or months before allowing them to enter the United States to request protection, the US government is violating its national asylum laws. The Mexican government is also violating Article 11 of its Constitution (guaranteeing its citizens’ freedom of movement) by preventing Mexican nationals from reaching the border to present themselves for asylum, while both countries are violating their obligations under international law.

From April 8 to 10, Amnesty International interviewed 15 asylum seekers who had been waiting on the illegal asylum waitlist for periods ranging from a few hours to several months.

Cindy, a 17-year-old mother who was seven months pregnant, had been waiting in Tijuana for over two months to request asylum at the US border, after fleeing from threats and violence in her home state of Michoacán, Mexico. “I feel unsafe and afraid to stay here,” she said. Soon after she fled, Cindy had had started receiving threatening phone calls from her aggressors in Michoacán.

Three transgender women from El Salvador and Honduras told Amnesty international they were afraid to wait in Tijuana before requesting asylum in the United States, because Mexican police had previously attacked and exploited them.

Pamela, a 29-year old trans woman from El Salvador, said she was “very afraid” of waiting in Tijuana. “Since I’ve been attacked and assaulted by the Mexican police in Mexico City, I wouldn’t feel safe going to the police if I were attacked by people here in Tijuana. They say Tijuana is a very dangerous place, and I’m afraid to go walk around in the streets by myself.”