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Rights Watch: Conditions Dire for Asylum-Seekers Stuck in Mexico

A small group of migrants waiting to seek asylum sleeps at the entrance to the Puerta Mexico international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, June 28, 2019.
A small group of migrants waiting to seek asylum sleeps at the entrance to the Puerta Mexico international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico, June 28, 2019.

Asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico are increasingly facing violence and dire conditions, stranded in purgatory with no means to survive, according to an upcoming report from Human Rights Watch.

The international rights group called on the Trump administration to end the practice of preventing asylum-seekers from living in the United States while their cases are being considered.

As of last week, Mexico reported 15,079 people, mostly from Central America, had been sent back to Mexico after reaching the U.S. That number includes 4,780 children and at least 13 pregnant women, according to the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press and will be released Tuesday.

Attacked, kidnapped, assaulted

Several asylum-seekers interviewed by the group were attacked, kidnapped or sexually assaulted in Mexico while waiting for court hearings. When some go to the U.S. for their hearings, they lose their shelter in Mexico and have no place upon return.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security had no immediate comment about the report.

The policy is one of the only border crackdown efforts by Trump that has not been shut down by courts. Homeland Security officials claim it is a necessary effort to stop the unmanageable flow of migrants streaming into the U.S. But there is growing outcry from humanitarian groups, lawyers and even asylum officers over the policy and what it means for safety and security, especially amid a rapid expansion following an allowance by Mexico to appease the Trump administration and avoid threatened tariffs.

Asylum-seekers have up to a year to file a claim. From October through March 31, there were 103,658 cases filed. There are tens of thousands of people crossing the border each month.

Belongings, papers taken by agents

The report also found that many asylum-seekers said their belongings, including their documents, were confiscated by Border Patrol agents. Homeland Security’s watchdog has also found that agents routinely dumped asylum-seekers’ backpacks, handbags and suitcases.

One 23-year-old asylum-seeker from Honduras, a mother, said agents took all her documents and now she has no proof that her daughter is even hers. In another case, a father said his government-issued ID was taken and he couldn’t get it back, despite needing to return to El Salvador to be with his gravely ill child. He ended up traveling to a Salvadoran consulate about 700 miles (1,120 kilometers) away and then leaving.

Another woman traveling with her 6-year-old and 3-year-old sons from Honduras said she is no longer permitted to stay in a shelter — it’s unclear why — and her court date is five months from now. She said she’s thinking of crossing illegally but is afraid the government will take her children.

The report was based on interviews and court monitoring done by the watchdog group in Mexico and the U.S. in May.