CBP ignored guidelines exempting particularly vulnerable people from Remain in Mexico, report says

CBP ignored guidelines exempting particularly vulnerable people from Remain in Mexico, report says

A leaked internal government report obtained by BuzzFeed News continues to confirm what advocates were long saying when the anti-asylum Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy was in effect: There were particularly vulnerable adults and children who under “guiding principles” should have been exempt from the program, but weren’t. 

The internal government report, authored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), said that while asylum-seekers with “known physical/mental health issues” were supposed to be exempt, “this was not well explained to border agents.” But you could also argue that agents knew and ignored guidelines anyway. Take this one example from Oct. 2020.

Invited by Texas Civil Rights Project, then-2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro traveled to the squalid Matamoros border camp to meet a number of the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who the previous administration had forced to wait in Mexico for their U.S. immigration court dates. “I’m here now to meet with refugees, some LGBTQ or disabled, who’ve been held up here despite policies that allow them to enter,” Castro tweeted at the time.

Castro would eventually escort a dozen particularly vulnerable to a U.S. port of entry, arguing that they “should not be included in the remain in Mexico policy.” Castro was successful in his effort—but only for the blink of an eye.

“Hours after we were told LGBT and disabled asylum seekers would have their cases heard, they have been returned to Mexico,” an outraged Castro said. “By law, these migrants are supposed to be exempt from the Remain in Mexico policy—but Customs and Border Protection had decided to ignore their due process. Outrageous.” The Texas Civil Rights Project, in turn, said that “[i]f these people … do not meet the criteria for ‘vulnerable populations,’ then the ‘vulnerable’ exemptions in ‘Remain in Mexico’ are lip service.”

The organization would go on to sue the previous administration later that year, “the first class-action suit challenging MPP’s discriminatory practices on the basis of disability.” But these vulnerable people weren’t alone in being blocked from their U.S. and international right to seek asylum, and in dehumanizing ways.

“In one case, investigators looked into an allegation that a 6-year-old girl from Honduras was returned to Mexico despite having advanced cerebral palsy,” BuzzFeed News reports. “The CBP records the investigators reviewed indicated that she, her parents, and her brother were placed into MPP on May 20, 2019. A DHS form the investigators reviewed indicated ‘CRIPPLED LEG, LEFT’ and ‘CRIPPLED LEG, RIGHT’ under a section reserved for ‘scars, marks, and tattoos.’” Investigators said the note “indicates that CBP was aware that the child had a disability at the time it placed [the girl] into MPP and returned her to Mexico.”

BuzzFeed News also reported that an asylum office had alerted border officials about an 11-year-old boy who’d been placed in MPP despite “severe epilepsy, with convulsions leading to loss of memory and vomiting.” But “CBP indicated that CBP was aware of the child’s condition and that he had gone through two prior medical screenings while remaining in the MPP program,” the report said. These border agents don’t care—and that’s a big reason why Remain in Mexico’s possible return as soon as next month would be disastrous. 

“It’s unclear how medical conditions and disabilities would be handled under a new version of MPP, but a court filing this month indicated that Mexican officials had wanted improvements to the program,” BuzzFeed News continued. But just days ago, dozens upon dozens of legal providers and service groups told the Biden administration it could forget about getting any help from them if it reinstates the program, writing that they “refuse to be complicit in a program that facilitates the rape, torture, death, and family separations of people seeking protection by committing to provide legal services.”

The U.S. needs Mexico’s cooperation to restart the program. If the two nations are unable to come to an agreement, the U.S. may be able to go back to court and say, we tried, but couldn’t. In the meantime, advocacy groups say that the Biden administration should reissue a new, more thorough memo again terminating the policy, “and that resolves any Administrative Procedure Act issues identified by the district court.” While the Biden administration said last month following a Supreme Court decision that it would again try to end the policy, nothing has been issued yet.

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