So far, the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy has forced more than 51,000 asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico, and about a quarter of them are children, according to a new Reuters analysis of federal data. Of those 13,000 children currently waiting, more than a quarter are under 5 and at least 400 are infants.
Children aren’t being sent back alone. The policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, isn’t supposed to apply to unaccompanied minors — they’re typically allowed to pursue their cases from within the U.S. — but it does apply to family groups. Administration officials have repeatedly said the program is partly intended to keep asylum-seeking families from reaching the U.S., since a federal court settlement forbids the government from detaining minors for over 20 days.
There’s been a surge in migrant families claiming asylum at the border over the past year. Many are fleeing violence, crime, and poverty in Central America, and a growing number are so-called “extra-continental” migrants from Africa and Asia who are similarly seeking better conditions in the U.S. Border officers apprehended more than 457,000 people in “family units” between October 2018 and August 2019, according to federal data.
Now, under the “Remain” program, which started in January, instead of waiting out their cases in the U.S., tens of thousands of migrant families have been forced to live in cities along the Mexican border, many of which have high rates of violence. The luckiest families are those who can afford to rent apartments or find open beds in shelters run by nonprofits and religious organizations.
But thousands of others are living in tent cities. Reuters spoke with one Guatemalan woman who lives in a small encampment in the back of a church outside Tijuana, who said her children — and others living there — often get sick because of the crowded conditions.
And they migrants are protesting these conditions. About 250-300 asylum-seekers, including some children, shut down the bridge uniting the Mexican city of Matamoros and Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday in protest of the Remain in Mexico policy. The protesters occupied the bridge overnight and shut down traffic for several hours. Children in the crowd made their voices heard, chanting, “We want to study, we want to study!” according to the ACLU’s Rochelle Garza.
Cover: A Honduran girl, center, is hugged by friends as she leaves the Agape World Mission shelter after her family decided to abandon their asylum case and accept voluntary return to Honduras, after spending nearly six months at the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. A new level of despair spread among tens of thousands of migrants waiting on the Mexican border to seek refuge in the U.S. as the Trump administration began enforcing radical new restrictions Thursday on who qualifies for asylum. (AP Photo/ Emilio Espejel)