Julian Castro Escorted LGBT Migrants Across the Border Only for CBP to Send Them Back After He Left

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro has accused the Trump administration of ignoring "due process" after he escorted 12 asylum seekers to the U.S. border only to learn they had been forced to return to Mexico hours later.

Among the group of 12 were a number of LGBT asylum seekers who said they had faced threats and assault while waiting in the Mexican border town of Matamoros, which sits across from Brownsville, Texas.

Several of the asylum seekers told The Los Angeles Times of how they had been threatened and intimidated for being gay, while one asylum seeker, Melisa, a 27-year-old from Honduras, said she had been struck by a stranger while simply standing outside a pharmacy and talking with friends.

"The same people who are living with us discriminate against us," one of the asylum seekers, Mari, 24, told the newspaper.

Detention under the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the asylum seekers said, would be better than being forced to wait another day in Mexico.

"Ten years in detention is better than a day here," Mari's partner, Dany, 22, told the newspaper.

According to Castro there was also at least one member of the group living with a disability.

Like thousands of others, the 12 asylum seekers had been forced to wait in Mexico under the Trump administration's controversial Remain in Mexico policy, which forces migrants to wait south of the border as their U.S. asylum claims are processed.

While LGBT asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico are particularly vulnerable to abuse, a number of rights organizations have warned that forcing any asylum seekers to wait in Mexican border towns could put their lives at risk.

According to Human Rights First, as many as 340 violent attacks, including instances of kidnapping, rape and torture, were reported just last month among asylum seekers forced to return to Mexico under the policy.

While Castro had reportedly left the Texas border assured that the asylum seekers he had aided would have their cases processed by immigration officials, hours later, he learned that they had been sent back to Mexico.

"Hours after we were told LGBT and disabled asylum seekers would have their cases heard, they have been returned to Mexico," Castro said in a tweet.

Noting that vulnerable cases should be excluded from the Remain in Mexico policy, Castro said that "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."

In a separate statement, the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents all 12 of the asylum seekers Castro escorted across the border, also condemned CBP over the incident.

"We just heard the terrible news that all 12 of our clients escorted by [Castro] were sent back to Mexico," the organization said. "This is, of course, a mockery of due process."

The Texas Civil Rights Project asserted that its clients were in CBP custody for a total of three hours, "which means that each person had less than 15 minutes for their non-refoulement interviews."

Non-refoulement, the group explained, "is when an asylum seeker or refugee cannot be sent back to the last country they were in because they are subject to persecution there."

"If these people—LGBTQ migrants who have been assaulted for who they are in the camps, disabled people, children—do not meet the criteria for 'vulnerable populations,' then the 'vulnerable' exemptions in 'Remain in Mexico' are lip service," the rights group said.

"Everyone on the ground here knows it, and now we can prove it. There is no intention to protect migrants in the so-called 'Remain in Mexico.' Trump's intent is to hide the cruelty of his administration away from our eyes," it added.

It further accused CBP of waiting for reporters to leave the scene to release the 12 asylum seekers back into Mexico.

"As soon as the reporters left to file their stories, CBP released the asylum seekers back into Mexico, where they face persecution in an open-air encampment where thousands from countries the U.S. has destabilized are forced to survive indefinitely," the Texas Civil Rights Project said.

"We will be sure to respond to CBP's complete lack of disregard to due process by demanding transparency and answers on what it will take for CBP to follow its own policy," it vowed.

Of course, the 12 asylum seekers are far from alone in being denied a chance to remain in the U.S. while their cases are being processed. So far, the policy has seen as many as 48,000 asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico for their cases in the U.S. to be processed, according to The Times.

Meanwhile, a June analysis by Reuters found that only 1 percent of people affected by the Remain in Mexico policy had seen their cases successfully pulled from the program.

Newsweek has contacted CBP for comment for this article.

Julian Castro
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro speaks during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum hosted by gun control activist groups Giffords and March for Our Lives at Enclave on October 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Castro says 12 asylum seekers he helped across the U.S. border were later forced to turn back. Ethan Miller/Getty