* 2014-Present: For the past 5 years the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, along with RAICES, Catholic Charities, and in more recent times, the City of San Antonio, has responded to the needs of migrants who have had to flee their country because of violence in its many forms and who are seeking asylum in the U.S. When the caravans from Central America made their way here, it was not unusual to have 250-300 people being housed overnight as they prepared to travel to their final destination in the U.S. Since the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), a new policy of the Trump administration, began, there has been a precipitous drop in the number of asylum seekers coming through San Antonio.
* The Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), also called the Remain in Mexico Policy: This policy, which truly should be called the Migrant ENDANGERMENT Protocol, began to be implemented in January 2019 with Customs and Border Protection sending asylum seekers back to northern Mexican cities like Cd. Juarez and Tijuana after their initial asylum claims had been processed. Before MPP, asylum seekers were released to family members and sponsors in the U.S. (1)
Why the change? The Trump administration’s ever-changing immigration policies all point in one direction: toward ever increasing intentional cruelty in order to discourage people from coming to the U.S. and to make it so difficult for those who have arrived, that they will finally give up and return home to the intolerable conditions from which they came.
Asylum is a right that is enshrined both in U.S. law and in international law. It is a sacred covenant and it is without question the responsibility of the U.S. government to honor and uphold this right, not to block it at every possible opportunity. (1)
What has been the effect on MPP on migrants from Central America seeking asylum? In short, because of MPP migrants have found themselves facing rape, torture, kidnapping, extortion and death when forced to wait in Mexican border towns.
There are insufficient resources in the border towns to meet the basic needs of the more than 60,000 migrants who have been forced back to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases wind through U.S. immigration court. A recent analysis by Human Rights First found 340 publicly reported instances of kidnapping, rape, torture and other types of violence against migrants returned to Mexico under MPP. (2)
In Matamoros, a refugee camp was set up for people waiting for their court dates. But that has not happened in Nuevo Laredo. The U.S. State Department has labeled Tamaulipas, the Mexican state that includes Nuevo Laredo, as a “Level 4” threat risk, alongside Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia. The cartels prey on the Central American refugees by kidnapping them and torturing them until their relatives pay a ransom. (2)
Rosa Flores from CNN recently visited a shelter in Nuevo Laredo for migrants run by Pastor Lorenzo Ortiz from El Buen Samaritano Migrante ministry. Sr. Denise LaRock, DC, who is on the leadership team of Interfaith Welcome Coalition in San Antonio, has been crossing the border from Laredo, TX in Pastor Ortiz’s van every Wednesday for the past two months to bring supplies to the shelters. She has asked the migrants to write letters explaining their hazardous situation and promised to share the letters with journalists to bring attention to the dangers they face. (3)
* What can we do to respond to the dangerous reality of MPP?
1) Educate ourselves: For starters, read the story by CNN correspondent Rosa Flores about the shelter in Nuevo Laredo run by Pastor Ortiz and how Sr. Denise LaRock, DC has been assisting there on a weekly basis: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/01/world/mexico-asylum-seekers-letters/index.html
2) Donate: Sr. Denise has started a GoFundMe page to help Pastor Ortiz pay rent, electricity, water and food for the shelters. You can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/el-buen-samaritano-migrante-shelters-mpp
3) Write/call your congresspersons: Let them know that your faith compels you to speak out against the inhumane and abhorrent treatment migrants experience under the MPP. We cannot continue to allow such abusive treatment to be done in our name.
* Are any refugees still coming through San Antonio? Yes. Non-Spanish speaker are exempted from the MPP. San Antonio has been receiving people from Haiti, the Congo, and Angola. While people from Central America usually know someone in the U.S., people from the African countries of Congo and Angola often do not have any U.S. contacts. Portland, Maine had been welcoming Congolese refugees, but it has reached capacity and cannot support newcomers in the way it did in the past.
* How are faith communities in TX responding to the new reality of the MPP? Faith communities recently came together along both sides of the Texas-Mexico border to form “Interfaith Border Network,” which though not a 501(c)(3), plans to respond both to the humanitarian crisis and to seek a political solution. It is clear that U.S. citizens can do a direct action protest on the U.S. side of the border but that the same thing is ill-advised and counter-productive on the Mexico side of the border where asylum seekers are living in dangerous and tenuous circumstances. A conference is being planned for early 2020.
(1) “A Review of Asylum Policies” by Hannah Hollandbyrd, Hope Border Institute in El Paso, TX, October 21, 2019, www.hopeborder.org
(2) David Martin Davies, TPR, November 27, 2019; News Article Source: https://www.tpr.org/post/migrants-nuevo-laredo-remain-mexico-means-remain-danger
(3) “‘Only God’s hand has kept us safe’: Migrants describe kidnappings and other dangers at the Mexico border” by Rosa Flores, CNN, December 1, 2019; https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/01/world/mexico-asylum-seekers-letters/index.html