Things That Matter

They Were Told To Wait In Mexico And Followed Every US Law, Now They’re Being Denied The Right To Claim Asylum

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and other immigrant advocacy groups believe the Trump administration is using three recent measures to effectively pull a “bait and switch” on migrants seeking asylum. The first measure is referred to as “metering” which limits the number of asylum seekers accepted at the United States and Mexican border. 

The second is the Migrant Protection Protocols which requires Central American asylum seekers to stay in Mexico for the duration of their legal proceedings.

The third measure known as the “safe third country” deals requires that migrants seek asylum in the first country they pass through before applying in the United States. This essentially bans all asylum seekers at the southern border except for Mexicans. 

Advocates say the result of the third measure means thousands of migrants who were stuck waiting due to metering or MPP will never be able to apply for asylum in the U.S. and are being punished for correctly using the legal system.

How the “safe third country” deal works to ban most asylum seekers.

The “safe third country” deals or transit ban, which is being challenged in the courts by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), requires migrants to apply for asylum in the first country they pass through before they’re eligible to apply in the United States. Any migrants from Central America who travel through Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala would have to apply there first.

 According to Vox, “under both international torture agreements and the asylum system,” the administration can send migrants, “back to Central America, where rampant crime, violence, and corruption is driving tens of thousands to flee.” 

However, because this policy only took effect on September 12, many asylum seekers who were forced to wait due to metering or MPP before the rule was in place, will now be turned away. 

Attorneys say the government pulled “immoral bait and switch.” 

The Associated Press highlighted one Salvadoran family who was put in the situation many migrants now face. Julio Lopez and his family chose to seek U.S. protection legally. The new ban applies to any migrants who arrived after July 16, the Lopez family reached the border before the cut off date, but are still suffering the consequences because of a different policy. The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) require asylum-seeking Central Americans to remain in Mexico while their legal proceedings take place. 

This means that although the Lopez family arrived in the U.S. before the July 16 cut off, because they were forced to wait in Mexico long enough for the “safe third country” deals to go in effect last September, they are no longer eligible to seek asylum in the United States — they would have to apply in the country they passed through before. 

“I’m being punished for doing it the correct way,” Lopez told the Associated Press. “It’s unjust.”

The SPLC and ACLU believe this is unfair and have challenged the procedure in court so that the new restrictions do not apply to anyone who was claiming asylum before July 16. 

Advocates are challenging the policies in the courts. 

Multiple lawsuits by the SPLC, ACLU, and advocacy groups like Al Otro Lado have been filed to challenge the three policies. However, the battle to ban asylum seekers has taken a bizarre turn in the courts. The Supreme Court ruled that the ban can take effect while lawyers challenge the policy going against a previous Supreme Court ruling of the same ban. 

“On September 11th, this year, the Supreme Court ruled—and issued a stay, in contrast to what it had done with the first asylum ban. This time the Court said that the second asylum ban could go into effect immediately nationwide,” Lee Gelernt a lawyer with the ACLU told the New Yorker

Gelernt believes the ban assumes that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are safe countries with functioning asylum systems, but migrants will “continue to be in danger, that the gangs who have been attacking them—or the perpetrator of the domestic violence they’re fleeing, or other types of danger—can easily locate them in Guatemala or Mexico; they will not be safe.”

SPLC will challenge metering claiming that the daily migrant limits deny the individual’s right to seek asylum under international and U.S. laws. 

“This is not the DMV. This is not the deli counter. There shouldn’t be numbers,” said SPLC attorney Melissa Crow.

Challengers to the MPP assert that the executive branch of the U.S. government does not have the legal authority to force asylum seekers to go to Mexico to wait for legal proceedings. 

While these legal proceedings take place and migrants are forced to wait in dangerous countries their lives are increasingly put at risk. In the meantime, Julio Lopez and his family are prepared to do what is necessary to survive.

“I can go to (immigration) court with my head held high and say, ‘Sir, I have followed the laws of the United States,” he told said. 

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