• Sheet of paper Report

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers

Crisis Mission - Mexico Border, February 2017
An already dangerous journey for tens of thousands of refugees has become deadlier thanks to President Trump’s Executive Order on border control and immigration as well as entrenched reckless practices in Mexico, Amnesty International said in a new report based on intensive investigations on both sides of the border.

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers explores the catastrophic impact of a catalogue of new policies and ongoing practices that result in asylum seekers pursuing increasingly more desperate and dangerous means of crossing the border. Asylum seekers who would otherwise present themselves through legal channels find themselves turned back to the dangers from which they’re fleeing or threatened with being unlawfully locked up in immigration detention centers in the U.S.

Asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border told Amnesty International the new measures forced them to risk extortion or violence by paying smugglers to cross into the U.S. Areas of the Arizona desert have registered a doubling in migrant deaths since Trump’s election.

“Extreme policies won’t change the fact that for many of these people seeking asylum, the danger is so great at home that they have no choice but to flee,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Rather than being deterred, people will be forced into the desert, into the rivers, and into the hands of smugglers. These policies place those fleeing violence in deadly peril.

“Instead of slamming the door shut and likely pushing people to their deaths,or warehousing children and families in jail-like settings,  the U.S. must scrap Trump’s order. Maintaining border security and showing compassion for those fleeing violence don’t have  to be mutually exclusive.”

“The USA and Mexico are partners in crime in brewing up a burgeoning human rights catastrophe. The USA is building a cruel water-tight system to prevent people in need from receiving international protection and Mexico is all too willing to play the role of the USA’s gatekeeper,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Children and infants detained in “Baby Jails” for months and years

President Trump’s Border Security Executive Order also includes increasing the capacity of existing detention centers for migrants and asylum seekers.

According to President Trump’s budget proposal,  there are plans to fund an unprecedented 51,379 detention beds.This goes far beyond a congressionally imposed bed quota of 34,000 per day – reinforcing the cruelty behind what is already the world’s largest immigration detention system.

Amnesty International has documented cases of families with babies and children who have been locked up for more than 600 days, and has called upon Ivanka Trump to visit one of the facilities in Pennsylvania.

In the coming months, the U.S. Congress will debate whether to fund such cruelty in the 2018 budget. Keeping a person in a detention center is estimated to cost the US government between $ 126 and $ 161 a day, whereas alternative measures to detention cost as little as $ 6 a day per person.

Push-backs and unlawful detention

Following intensive field research on both sides of the US-Mexico border since February this year, Amnesty International found that President Trump’s catalogue of measures aimed at “tackling immigration” violate international law. These include the January 25 Executive Order on “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” and a series of other measures which allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations as well as increase the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end.

 In addition to an increase in smuggling and higher death rates at some border points, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials are illegally refusing entry to asylum-seekers at ports of entry.

A husband and wife who fled Honduras with their daughter after the husband was assaulted, shot and persecuted by a powerful criminal gang (mara), told Amnesty International that they were turned away from the McAllen, Texas border crossing six times over a three-day period in January 2017, despite presenting themselves to CBP officers to ask for asylum.

Nicole Ramos, a U.S. lawyer who accompanied 71 asylum seekers to the San Diego-Tijuana border crossing between December 2015 and April 2017 told Amnesty International that on nearly all occasions, CBP officers either attempted to deny asylum seekers entry, or gave incorrect instructions such as re-directing people to the US consulate in Mexico.

The USA’s gatekeeper?

Amnesty International has also found that Mexico is failing in its responsibility to protect the increasing number of Central Americans seeking protection in the country.

According to official figures, in 2016 a record 8,788 asylum claims were lodged in Mexico in comparison to 1,296 in 2013.

Ninety-one per cent of these claims came from citizens of the violence-wracked “Northern Triangle” of Central America (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala), and the UN Refugee Agency forecasts a possible 20,000 claims in 2017.

Instead of providing protection, Mexico is pushing people back to extremely dangerous situations. In 2016, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration detained 188,595 irregular migrants, 81 percent of these from Central America, and returned 147,370 to their countries of origin. Nine seven per cent of people deported were from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Many were not informed of their rights to seek protection through an asylum claim.

A 23-year-old man left Honduras five years ago fearing for his life but has been deported from Mexico more than two dozen times. A mara wants to kill him for fleeing its ranks after being forcibly recruited as an orphan age 13.: “I’ve been deported 27 times from Mexico. The Mexican migration agents don’t care why you’re leaving your country. They make fun of you.”

When Amnesty International raised the issue with the authorities, an official of Mexico’s National Institute of Migration in the southern border state of Chiapas said: “We try to make the return to their countries as quick as possible.”