Trump Administration Expands 'Remain In Mexico' Program Despite Reports Of Asylum Seekers Facing Violence Across Border

The Trump administration has expanded its controversial "Remain in Mexico" program, despite reports of asylum seekers affected by the policy facing kidnapping, sexual assault and other violence south of the U.S. border.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security said it had begun processing asylum seekers for return to Mexico at the Eagle Pass Port of Entry in Eagle Pass, Texas, under the "Migrant Protection Protocols" that have forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum cases are considered in the U.S.

"Migrants who attempts to enter the U.S. via the southwest border regardless of location may be returned to Mexico to await their immigration court proceedings," the DHS said in a statement announcing the expansion.

The latest addition to the program brings the total number of ports of entry where "MPP returns" can be made up to six, with the policy already in force at ports of entry in San Diego, Calexico, El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville.

"The expansion to Eagle Pass," the DHS asserted, "reflects the continued effectiveness and importance of MPP across the southern border."

In a separate statement, outgoing DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said President Donald Trump was "using every tool available to address the humanitarian crisis at the border to include domestic policy changes and fostering collaboration with our neighbors in the region."

"We are confident in the program's integrity and ability to adjudicate asylum claims quickly and with all due process," McAleenan said. "We have already seen individuals granted asylum, and many more fraudulent or non-meritorious cases closed. MPP has been—and remains—an essential part of these efforts."

Despite the Trump administration's confidence in the program, human rights groups have condemned it, arguing that it puts asylum seekers' lives at risks.

In a report released earlier this month, Human Rights First said it had already identified at least 343 cases in which asylum seekers forced to remain in Mexico had reported being "violently attacked or threatened" there, with some falling victim to kidnapping, rape and other violence.

That number was more than triple the 110 incidents the organization had initially said it had identified in August, yet, Human Rights First said it was still likely to be a "gross underestimate of the harm to returned asylum seekers."

A Reuters analysis of government data also revealed that more than 13,000 asylum seekers under the age of 18 were being forced to wait in high-crime Mexican border towns while their immigration cases were being processed.

Among those 13,000, the news agency reported that there were at least 400 infants who had been forced to wait south of the border, with many families being forced to wait in border towns the U.S. has deemed "Level 4: Do Not Travel" regions.

Among them is the Mexican border town of Matamoros, located in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which U.S. tourists are advised not to travel to due to "violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion and sexual assault" being "common" in the area, according to the U.S. government's own travel advisory for Mexico.

Immigration and human rights groups have sought to sue the Trump administration in a bid to halt the Remain in Mexico policy. However, in the meantime, the U.S. government has pushed ahead with the program's expansion.

U.S.-Mexico border
People look through the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Playas de Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on September 14, 2019. The Trump administration has expanded its Remain In Mexico program, which has forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are processed in the U.S. GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty