November 6, 2019 at 1:12 pm PST | by Brody Levesque
New Trump rule puts LGBTQ asylum seekers at greater risk

CBP Patrol Vehicle at Pacific Ocean edge of the San Diego Sector U.S.-Mexico Border Credit: KTLA Los Angeles (Screenshot)

LGBTQ asylum seekers from Central American countries stuck at the Mexican border at San Diego’s San Ysidro district are being placed at greater risk of persecution and violence through the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, immigrant advocates say. 

The MPP, colloquially referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” was implemented last January by then-Sec. of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen and would supposedly protect “individuals from vulnerable populations” waiting in Mexico to be processed by US government officials.  

Meanwhile, the Trump administration began testing a secretive program known as Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR) to speed up the deportation of asylum-seeking migrants who legally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to apply for asylum and are being held in detention by the U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agency. PACR’s streamlining of the process gives asylum seekers a decision in 10 days or less, rather than the months or years the process takes now. The “rapid” reviews determine if an asylum seeker’s “credible fear of harm” if sent back to their countries of origin is valid. 

A Homeland Security spokesperson declined comment to the Los Angeles Blade. But a source at CBP confirmed that PACR, implemented initially in the El Paso, Texas region, is slated to expand to the two principal CBP/ICE facilities nearest the border at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in the San Diego area and the Adelanto ICE Processing Center – West in the San Bernardino area as soon as this December.

Overshadowing the situation for LGBTQ asylum seekers is the reality that nearly 88% of LGBTQ people in Central American countries have been victimized by sexual and gender-based violence—roughly two thirds of asylum seekers from Mexico alone, according to a special report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2017.

The report, ‘No Safe Place,’ published November 27, 2017 by Amnesty International, details the lack of proactive measures by the authorities to punish criminals, especially crimes against LGBTQ people –  particularly when corrupt police are responsible for the attacks. 

The Trump administration’s MPP program increases the potential harm. A November 3, 2019 article published by the San Diego Union-Tribune outlined the grave dangers faced by LGBTQ asylum seekers who faced persecution in their countries and then are left to contend with the process on the Mexican side of the border, especially in Tijuana.

While the Trump administration has severely limited asylum qualifications for Central Americans fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse, migrants can still request asylum based on persecution because of their gender identity and/or their sexual orientation. But their path is far from easy the Union-Tribune reported.

“Here, the same as at home, the police discriminate against us,” Pedro Luis Perez, a 27-year-old gay asylum seeker from Guatemala told the paper in early October. “We’re very vulnerable. I don’t feel safe here in Mexico.”

A Department of Homeland Security Assessment of the MPP program, published October 28, 2019, reported 13,000 completed cases and more than 55,000 migrants returned to Mexico. It estimates that 20,000 people are currently held in Mexico, which according to DHS, proves that MPP works because “a significant proportion of the 55,000+ MPP returnees have chosen to abandon their claims.”

A source with CBP indicated to the Los Angeles Blade that a percentage of those returned to Mexico under the MPP program had failed to make the required appearances at the CBP Border Station for hearings. That’s because, Ursela Ojeda, a policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission told the Guardian UK last month, of the sheer number of violent crimes occurring in the border towns.

“There is no way to know why they just missed court – they could have been kidnapped, they could have been killed, they could have been put on a bus by the Mexican government and shoved to another part of the country with no way to get back,” she told The Guardian.

“Advocates have been warning about the dangers’ of the program,” the Guardian wrote. But “a new report by Human Rights First revealed that there were at least 340 reports of rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks against people returned to Mexico while they wait for their case to be heard in US immigration court.” 

“The Trump-Pence administration continues its horrific and immoral crackdown against people escaping violence in their home countries,” HRC Global Director Jay Gilliam said in a statement to the Washington Blade’s Michael K. Lavers who covered a briefing on LGBTQ asylum seekers on Oct. 23 at the Russell Senate Office Building. Lavers reported that criticism continues over the treatment of LGBTQ detainees in ICE custody.

Sending migrants back to Mexico is “extremely dangerous because it exposes them to criminal cartels that control broad areas of the Mexican border,” Brian Griffey, regional researcher at Amnesty International, told NBC News September 9.

“These people in some cases have been sexually assaulted, abducted, or otherwise harmed while they’re waiting to access the U.S. asylum system to pursue their claims,” Griffey said. “These people largely don’t have lawyers, they don’t have any means of getting information about the court, they are just given basically a temporary paper they’re supposed to come back to this bridge or other port of entry, and until then, they’re on their own.”

“This is really an abandonment of the United States legal obligations towards refugees, which is pushing the world’s most vulnerable people back into a cauldron of violence in northern Mexico that even the U.S. State Department warns people not to go into because it is so dangerous,” he added.

In an action related to the MPP, on Tuesday, November 5, U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant of the Southern District of California heard oral arguments in a motion to block the Trump administration from applying an asylum ban to thousands of asylum-seekers who were prevented from accessing the asylum process before the ban was implemented. Although Judge Bashant did not issue a ruling, a source close to the case on background told the LA BLADE that the attorneys were pleased by the hearing and are hopeful on a ruling in their favor.

The motion was filed in Al Otro Lado v. McAleenan – a class action lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Immigration Council. The lawsuit challenges the administration’s policy of turning back asylum-seekers at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border through metering and other tactics. The metering policy requires asylum-seekers to get on long wait-lists to seek asylum in the United States.

Although Judge Bashant did not issue a ruling, a source close to the case on background told the Los Angeles Blade  that the attorneys were pleased by the hearing and are hopeful on a ruling in their favor.

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