“Migrant Protection Protocols” Policy is a Death Sentence for Asylum Seekers

3/5/19 Asylum

“[The cartel member] threatened me, saying he would kidnap me to sell me in prostitution and would take my child to sell his organs if I did not have sex with him. He said that he had connections in the Gulf Cartel [and] that white women like me sold the best, and that children’s organs also sold very well. Then he raped me.”

This account, shared by a Honduran woman, describes the horrific experiences she and her son encountered in Mexico as they made their way to the United States to request asylum. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. The American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers  Association, and other partners presented this story and ten similar firsthand accounts in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, urging her to reconsider the implementation of the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” a new policy returning asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait months for their immigration hearing.

The so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” initiative (MPP) is a misnomer. Asylum seekers fleeing imminent danger will not be protected by this policy. Rather, it threatens to jeopardize meaningful access to asylum and other humanitarian protections under U.S. immigration laws. For example, asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico for months or longer will find it especially difficult—if not impossible—to access attorneys familiar with U.S. immigration and asylum laws, to file necessary paperwork in a timely manner, and to secure evidence to demonstrate their claims for asylum.

The letter that we sent to Secretary Nielsen includes the results of a survey of more than 500 asylum-seeking mothers detained in a family detention center in Dilley, Texas. While the MPP has only been implemented in Tijuana, the stories shared in the letter detail harm experienced across the Mexican border region. The survey data reveals that the MPP’s promise of a safe process and “protection” is entirely misleading and inattentive to the real dangers faced by asylum seekers in Mexico.

The surveys produced alarming findings, including:

  • 90 percent of women said that they did not feel safe in Mexico.
  • 46 percent of women reported that they or their child experienced at least one type of harm while in Mexico.
  • 38 percent of women stated that Mexican police mistreated them.

The surveys – and the brave women who completed them – represent just a handful of the thousands of migrants currently at, or en route to, our southern border. They will face extreme violence or worse if the MPP continues to be implemented or expanded. News outlets recently reported that the MPP could be applied not just in Tijuana, but Eagle Pass, Texas, and possibly El Paso and Laredo, imminently.

When asylum seekers cross the border into the United States, their journeys toward lasting safety are far from over. The barriers to due process and legal assistance are innumerable— some immigration courts grant fewer than 2% of asylum cases, and many asylum seekers spend months or years in immigration jails, frightened and far from their loved ones. Being forced to wait in Mexico will only compound these obstacles and further impede their right to justice.

The “Migrant Protection Protocols” represent an approach to asylum seekers in which no one wins, and everyone loses – some paying the ultimate price.


AILA members seeking more information about the impact of the “Migrant Protection Protocols” may find an upcoming audio seminar of interest: Assault on Asylum: Navigating the Proposals to Limit Access to Asylum

by Katie Shepherd