HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy forcing asylum seekers to wait outside the country in one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped out, some since several months.
The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it would implement its migrant protection protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS says it expects the first asylum seekers to be returned to Mexico starting Friday.
Under the so-called “Stay in Mexico” policy, asylum seekers are briefly processed and given a return date for a hearing in immigration court before being sent back across the border. southern border. Since January, the policy has been implemented in several border cities, including San Diego and El Paso, Texas.
The United States is trying to reduce the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under US law. The busiest corridor for unauthorized border crossings is the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, where Brownsville is located. Other towns in the Rio Grande Valley were not immediately included in the expansion.
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DHS said it had coordinated with the Mexican government on the policy. The Mexican government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the Trump administration has pressured Mexico to clamp down on migrants, threatening earlier this year to impose crippling tariffs until the two sides agree new measures targeting migration.
Matamoros sits at the eastern end of the US-Mexico border in the state of Tamaulipas, where organized crime gangs dominate and the US government warns citizens not to visit due to violence and kidnappings.
The town is also close to where a Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter were found drowned in the Rio Grande, in photos shared around the world.
Many people have been sleeping for several months in a makeshift camp near one of the international bridges, including families with young children. Thousands more are staying in hotels, shelters or boarding houses. Only a few migrants a day have been allowed to apply for asylum under another Trump administration policy limiting the processing of asylum applications known as “counting”.
A list run by Mexican officials has more than 1,000 people, said Elisa Filippone, a US-based volunteer who travels to Matamoros several times a week to deliver food and donate clothing. But many more who are not on the list are waiting in shelters. There are frequent rumors that migrants are shaken down for bribes to join the list, Filippone said.
She described a dire situation that could be made worse if people are forced to wait longer in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed.
“I’m afraid Matamoros is about to catch fire,” she said.
Filippone said on Friday she saw the camp closest to one of the bridges being cleared away, although it was not immediately clear why or where those detained would go.
DHS recently implemented the “Remain” policy for migrants in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. About 1,800 asylum seekers and migrants are currently waiting in Nuevo Laredo, where some said they were kidnapped and extorted by gangs.
“I don’t want to go out on the street. I’m scared the same men… will do something to me or my boys,” said one woman, insisting on speaking anonymously out of fear for their safety.
Residents of Nuevo Laredo have been asked to return in September for US court hearings. At other points on the border, waiting times extended to several months.
Unlike criminal court, the US government does not have to provide attorneys for people in the immigration court system. South Texas attorneys have long wondered where they might meet potential clients in Tamaulipas.
Many migrants arriving in the United States have exhausted all their resources upon arrival, said Lisa Brodyaga, an attorney who has represented asylum seekers for decades.
“It would be extremely difficult for them to find lawyers who would have the time, the capacity and the will to expose themselves to what is happening in Matamoros,” she said. “I don’t know how it’s going to work.”