Asylum Seeker Denied US Entry by Trump Administration Kidnapped Five Hours After Return to Mexico

An asylum seeker said he and his child were kidnapped and held for ransom by Mexican cartel members just hours after asylum policies enacted by the Trump administration forced them to return to Mexico under "protection protocols."

The man, who is one of 42,000 asylum seekers sent back to Mexico by the Trump administration since mid-July, told VICE News that corrupt Mexican immigration officials and uncaring U.S. Border Patrol agents work in tandem to deliver destitute migrants to cartels.

VICE reported on the story of "David" who, along with his young child, were forced into trucks and abducted just a few hours and miles away from the border crossing where he'd hoped to seek asylum in the United States. After being promised shelter as they awaited an asylum court hearing, David and his child were sent back to a bus station and rounded up by waiting cartel coyotes.

Under the Trump administration's "Migrant Protection Protocols," asylum seekers are sent back to Mexico as they await legal proceedings. As they wait, migrants often become targets of the cartels, which kidnap thousands of them, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission says.

"I am terrified to be here,' said another asylum seeker, Claudia López Romero, in an interview with VICE.

David recounted how dozens of women and children were "treated like pieces of meat" as their Nuevo Laredo cartel kidnappers extorted thousands of dollars from their relatives working for minimum wages.

"[The U.S. border patrol agents] told us they were going to bring us to a shelter," David told VICE News, just a few hours before the cartel abducted he and his child. "They lied."

Under Trump administration directives, the Mexican government gives asylum seekers two options: accept a free bus ride to Tapachula, a city on Mexico's southern border with Guatemala that is 30 hours from the U.S., or remain without protection in Nuevo Laredo, one of the country's most dangerous regions.

Kidnappings and extortion of family members are so common in Nuevo Laredo that the organized criminal process is referred to as "passing through the office."

"The people in migration turned us over to the cartels," David said. "They know what they are doing. They don't care if you're killed or not."

"It's pretty clear that the Department of Homeland Security is essentially delivering asylum seekers and migrants into the hands of kidnappers, and people who are attacking the refugees and migrants when they return," said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. She noted that in Mexico's border region "it's absolutely pointless to go to the police."

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan has defended the Trump administration policies which force asylum seekers escaping violence in their home countries to wait in Mexico until an immigration judge decides their case. Morgan and other U.S. Border Patrol officials have insisted that holding asylum seekers in Mexico is what caused apprehensions at the border to drop by 66,000 from May to August.

"It discourages the abuse and exploitation of U.S. laws and non-meritorious or false asylum claims," Morgan said at a White House briefing earlier this month.

But immigration activists and migration experts disagree, saying Trump's policies have blocked legal migration and decimated the entire asylum-seeking process.

"This is far more effective than a wall would have been," said Jeremy Slack, a professor at the University of Texas-El Paso who studies migration. "Because you are essentially stopping legal migration, which is what Trump has been after the whole time."

"Trump has totally won," said Stephanie Leutert, director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin. "It's the death of access to asylum by a thousand cuts."

According to VICE, David was ultimately handed over by cartel leaders after his sister and family members paid more than $15,000 for the safe return of himself and his child. He can no longer attend his upcoming court hearing in the U.S. because cartel members stole all paperwork proving he was promised the legal proceeding.

"[It] allows the Trump administration to carry out an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe out of sight and out of mind," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, in an interview with VICE. "We have sent asylum seekers back to Mexico, and said 'hope you don't die. Bye, bye.'"

At a May campaign rally, Trump joked about shooting asylum seekers at the border as he warned Florida attendees of a Hispanic invasion. "They want to fly the flag of Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador right into our border," Trump said. "Save that flag; we love our country."

border patrol agent asylum seekers texas
A Border Patrol agent takes down personal data from Salvadorian mother Ana Esmeralda and her son Manuel Alexander, 2, after they were taken into custody on July 02, 2019 in Los Ebanos, Texas. The Trump administration will now detain migrant families together indefinitely, a new rule that officials say will deter illegal immigrants from crossing the southern border. John Moore/Getty