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Even a personal escort from a high-profile 2020 presidential candidate didn’t help a group of LGBTQ asylum-seekers trying to enter the U.S. on Monday.
Texas Democrat Julián Castro visited a camp of asylum-seekers in Matamoros, Mexico — people who’d been forced into the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program — and then walked 12 of them to the U.S. border, hoping to persuade immigration officers to let them wait for their cases to play out in the U.S.
But just a few hours later, all 12 migrants — some of whom said they’d been harassed and assaulted in Mexico because of their sexual orientation — were sent back to Mexico.
Eight members of the group were LGBTQ asylum-seekers from Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras, according to the Los Angeles Times. A deaf woman from El Salvador and her three relatives also attempted to cross from Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas, with Castro.
Some of the asylum-seekers had previously asked to be removed from the program, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which requires migrants to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are decided — a process that can take months or even years.
“We tried this before and it didn’t work, so hopefully with the support that we have today, it will work,” Ray, a 35-year-old asylum-seeker from Cuba, told BuzzFeed News. Ray said he'd fled his country after being fired from his job because of his sexual orientation.
When the group got to the middle of the bridge connecting Matamoros with Brownsville, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stopped them and had them wait for a supervisor, who escorted them to the U.S. side for interviews. The group stayed in U.S. custody for about three hours, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents the asylum-seekers. Instead of being let into the U.S. to continue their cases, they were turned away.
Despite its name, migrants enrolled in the MPP are often kidnapped or extorted by gangs and drug cartels. A recent report by Human Rights First found that at least 340 asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico have reported attacks including rape, kidnapping, and torture.
Some migrants are particularly vulnerable, including those who are LGBTQ, and the Department of Homeland Security has said people from “vulnerable populations” can be removed from the MPP on a “case-by-case basis.”
“It flies in the face of the tradition in the United States of allowing people seeking asylum to make that claim and to remain in the safety of the United States instead of having to be in places like Matamoros,” Castro told BuzzFeed News. "A lot of families along the border who are part of this MPP program have been subjected to violence, some have been kidnapped, some have been extorted, some have been treated a lot worse than what they were fleeing from.”
Cover: Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro places flowers on the wooden markers of those who have died crossing the Rio Grande Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, on his visit to a migrant campsite in Matamoros, Mexico.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP)