Currently, about 10,000 migrants are stuck in Juárez, where people are capping out shelters and hotel rooms, renting basements and lots, or sleeping on the streets. These asylum-seekers have family members, relatives, or friends who can take care of them in the United States—but very few have connections in Mexico. When the U.S. government sends them back to Mexico, these people wander out into the streets with no money, no food, no place to sleep, and no social network.
Some lawyers and advocates say MPP fails to comply with the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, which allows asylum-seekers to fairly exercise their right to seek asylum and protects them from returning to countries where they would face “danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” They also say that MPP has resulted in more family separations—in several cases, a father and children older than 18 were sent back to Mexico, while the mother and younger children were allowed to stay in the United States. In other cases, children who crossed the border with an adult who’s not their parent or legal guardian—typically grandparents, older siblings, or another relative—were also separated.
Meanwhile, thousands of people are now stranded in border cities rife with kidnappings, murder, robbery, trafficking, and extortion. These are cities that the U.S. State Department itself is recommending Americans avoid due to extreme violence. There, migrants are particularly easy and obvious targets—they have darker skin, distinct facial features, foreign mannerisms, and strange accents. Even without those detectable traits, they’re easy to spot when lining up at the port of entry for court or walking into shelters. Kidnappers know that most have loved ones in the United States, which makes them lucrative hostages.
‘There’s just rampant, rampant amounts of kidnapping [in Juárez]. I know my life is in danger every time I go over there.’ —immigration attorney Taylor Levy
Legally, those who fear returning to Mexico can request an interview with an asylum officer. But the standards for “reasonable fear” are nearly impossible to meet: Ninety-nine percent of interviewees are sent back. Taylor Levy, a pro bono immigration attorney in El Paso, said one client and her children had been kidnapped twice in Juárez. The woman managed to pay both ransoms, and though she showed asylum officers evidences of the ransom payments, the government still sent her back, saying just because she’d been kidnapped twice in the past does not mean she’s likely to be kidnapped again.
Levy said she once watched a group of men snatch a family right before her eyes. When she tried to intervene, the kidnappers threatened her as well. So Levy thought of her two adopted daughters and stood, helpless and devastated, as the kidnappers dragged the family away: “I can’t stop thinking about them, ever. There’s just rampant, rampant amounts of kidnapping [in Juárez]. I know my life is in danger every time I go over there.”