Well, the trip north seemed like a good idea. Now it looks like President Trump’s stonewalling and slow-walking of asylum claims have paid off, as more than 2,000 Central American migrants have given up.
Under a program called Assisted Voluntary Return funded by the U.S. and run by the U.N., 2,170 migrants who either never made it into the U.S. or were detained upon entry and then sent to Mexico to wait for their immigration hearings were put on buses or planes bound for their home countries.
At $1.65 million, the program isn’t cheap, and some people worry that it violates an international law principle of sending people to countries where they might be persecuted. While the migrants haven’t yet seen U.S. immigration officers, U.N. officials interview each one to make sure they have decided not to pursue asylum in the U.S. and want to return home voluntarily.
Christopher Gascon, an official with the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), said the the program is safer and more humane than what the migrants could arrange on their own.
Nicolas Palazzo, an attorney with El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said:
“How can it be a voluntary decision (to return home) given the conditions they face in Mexico? It’s a choice between two hells.”
Besides any danger they might face back home, there is another significant downside to leaving: If migrants do not show up for a U.S. court hearing, they can be ordered deported “in absentia,” reducing their odds of ever being granted refuge in the United States.
When required to stay in Mexico while awaiting their court hearings, migrants face the everyday dangers in that country.
Denia Carranza, a 24-year-old Honduran returned to Mexico to await a court hearing set for October, decided instead to board a bus back home last week.
She said she and her 7-year-old son had fled her hometown and a good job at a shrimp packing company after gang members threatened to kill her if she did not deal drugs to fellow employees. She had hoped to apply for U.S. asylum.
But she said she was frightened in Ciudad Juarez – a battleground for drug cartels where the bulk of migrants await their hearings. Also, she had no job and no way to provide for her son.
“I am scared of going back to Honduras. But I am more afraid to stay.”
The U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights First said it had documented more than 100 violent incidents perpetrated against migrants waiting in Mexico for U.S. court hearings this year, including rape, kidnapping, robbery, assault and police extortion.
The IOM documented 247 deaths of migrants near the US-Mexico border this year through Aug. 15.
It’s impossible to know how many of the migrants who choose to return home would have eventually been granted asylum in the U.S., but the odds are that it’s not a large number since more than 80% of asylum claims are rejected.
Three quarters of the migrants in the voluntary return program went back to Honduras, a fifth to El Salvador and the rest to Guatemala and Nicaragua, according to IOM figures through July 26 of this year. More than half were “family units” and about 100 were unaccompanied minors. Most of the migrants have been sent back from Mexico, and a small fraction from Guatemala.