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Asylum Seekers Sent to Dangerous Area  07/20 09:18

   The U.S. government on Friday expanded its requirement that asylum seekers 
wait outside the country to a part of the Texas Rio Grande Valley across from 
one of Mexico's most dangerous cities.

   HOUSTON (AP) -- The U.S. government on Friday expanded its requirement that 
asylum seekers wait outside the country to a part of the Texas Rio Grande 
Valley across from one of Mexico's most dangerous cities.

   The Department of Homeland Security said that it would implement its Migrant 
Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, 
Mexico. DHS says it anticipates the first asylum seekers will be sent back to 
Mexico starting Friday.

   Under the so-called "Remain in Mexico" policy, asylum seekers are briefly 
processed and given a date to return for an immigration court hearing before 
being sent back across the southern border. Since January, the policy has been 
implemented at several border cities including San Diego and El Paso, Texas. At 
least 18,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according 
to Mexico's National Migration Institute.

   The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants 
passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law. The busiest corridor 
for unauthorized border crossings is the Rio Grande Valley, at Texas' 
southernmost point. Other cities in the region were not immediately included in 
the expansion.

   The policy announcement came as groups of lawmakers visited the region 
Friday to examine detention facilities operated by the U.S. Border Patrol, 
including the processing center in McAllen, Texas, where hundreds of adults and 
children are detained in fenced-in pens.

   Standing outside the processing center, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon 
criticized conditions inside the facilities and other Trump administration 
programs cracking down on asylum seekers.

   "We want them treated with dignity and respect as we would want our family 
members to be treated," Merkley said.

   U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragn, a California Democrat, tweeted that while 
visiting the processing center, she encountered a 13-year-old girl who was a 
U.S. citizen and had her passport with her. The girl was held with her mother 
despite the facility being designed for immigrants in the U.S. without legal 
permission, not citizens, Barragn said.

   U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that the mother and daughter had 
been apprehended crossing the border illegally after the teenager had crossed 
into Mexico to meet her mother. CBP said the two were detained at the 
processing center for about five hours and released Friday afternoon.

   DHS said it had coordinated with the Mexican government to expand its 
"Remain" policy. The Mexican government did not immediately respond to requests 
for comment. But the Trump administration has pressured Mexico to crack down on 
migrants, threatening earlier this year to impose crippling tariffs until both 
sides agreed on new measures targeting migration.

   Matamoros is at the eastern edge of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tamaulipas 
state, where organized crime gangs are dominant and the U.S. government warns 
citizens not to visit due to violence and kidnappings.

   The city is also near where a Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old 
daughter were found drowned in the Rio Grande, in photos that were shared 
around the world.

   Many people have slept for the last several months in a makeshift camp near 
one of the international bridges, including families with young children. 
Thousands more stay in hotels, shelters, or boarding houses. Only a few 
migrants daily have been allowed to seek asylum under another Trump 
administration policy limiting asylum processing known as "metering."

   A list run by Mexican officials has more than 1,000 people on it, said Elisa 
Filippone, a U.S.-based volunteer who visits Matamoros several times a week to 
deliver food and donated clothes. But many others not on the list wait in 
shelters. There are frequent rumors that migrants are shaken down for bribes to 
join the list, Filippone said.

   She described a desperate 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 that Matamoros is about to catch on fire," she said.

   Filippone said Friday that she saw the camp closest to one of the bridges 
being cleared away, though it was not immediately clear why or where the people 
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 have reported being kidnapped and 
extorted by gangs.

   "I don't want to go out on the street. I'm afraid the same men ... will do 
something to me or my boys," said one woman, insisting on speaking anonymously 
out of fear for their safety.

   People in Nuevo Laredo were told to return in September for U.S. court 
dates. At other points of the border, wait times have stretched to several 
months.

   Unlike in criminal court, the U.S. government does not have to provide 
lawyers to people in the immigration court system. Attorneys in South Texas 
have long questioned where they could meet with potential clients in Tamaulipas.

   Many migrants who get to the U.S. have exhausted all their resources by the 
time they arrive, said Lisa Brodyaga, an attorney who has represented asylum 
seekers for decades.

   "It would be extremely difficult for them to find attorneys who would have 
the time and the ability and the willingness to expose themselves to what's 
going in Matamoros," she said. "I'm not sure how it's going to work."


(KR)

 
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