After months of COVID, migrants under MPP are losing hope

Content Warning: disturbing content

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, CLINIC’s Estamos Unidos Asylum Project team shared the stories of asylum seekers and migrants under Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP. Those under MPP had already been living in dangerous conditions while waiting for their U.S. immigration hearings. As the pandemic has stretched on, costing thousands of lives, the already unpredictable, strenuous reality for those at the border has only worsened. U.S. immigration courts suspended MPP hearings since March 2020. Early on in the pandemic adults and children were still forced to present themselves at ports of entry to receive a rescheduled hearing date. This created yet another level of hardship. Currently people solely rely on the court’s website to obtain information on their case.

The following two stories are continuations from those found in the blog, Already vulnerable migrants in Juarez endangered by COVID-19 pandemic. These migrants continue to wait for their court hearings while fighting to survive deadly conditions.

  1. After living through 10 months of postponements to her MPP hearing, Beatriz’s health deteriorated. The stress and uncertainty of living under MPP during COVID-19 caused her diabetes to get worse, resulting in her losing an eye. After this, she asked to be repatriated to her home country, as she feared she would not survive her illness under the desolate conditions she was living under. Religious organizations chipped in to help her pay for a flight back home, where she cared for by family. One of her biggest fears was that she would die alone, and become yet one more nameless migrant dead at the southern border of the United States.
  2. Matias and his family continue to live in a shelter. He and his partner have remained unable to find work in Ciudad Juarez. Matias still lacks access to medication and treatment for his chronic health condition. Their son, who is now three years old, has spent the last 10 months in lockdown at the shelter with his parents. The trio fight rising levels of depression and anxiety, exacerbated by nearly a year of the status quo. They hope to soon be able to file their asylum applications and have their day in court.

In the Fall of 2020, The Estamos Unidos Asylum Project met Ana,* an asylum seeker from Honduras, and her partner, Carlos,* from Nicaragua, both of whom are under MPP. In the months that they have waited in Mexico for a chance to see an immigration judge, they have been kidnapped twice and welcomed the birth of their son. They live in a small room, fearful of yet another kidnapping. They are scared to present themselves before US immigration officers, after their last attempt led to a 3-day detention in the “hieleras,” or freezer. It was so cold that the baby would not stop crying. Officers stated the family was not in danger despite all they had survived and returned them to Mexico, to once again face danger and risk yet another kidnapping or worse.

At the beginning of January, Carlos left to find work. Ana has not heard from him since. His cellphone has been disconnected. She fears that he has been kidnapped yet again. The Estamos Unidos team has been unable to find Carlos; he is not in ICE custody, and the Commission of Disappeared Persons in Tamaulipas has not located him either. Their baby boy became very sick because of the cold temperatures he endured while in detention. Ana is desperate. She fears seeking protection with U.S. immigration officers will only lead to risking her baby’s health in the “hieleras” once again. She hopes Carlos is alive and will come back to her and their baby.

The horrific experiences of these asylum seekers, unfortunately, are not uncommon. Thousands of asylum seekers are waiting for their day in court in squalid, makeshift camps and other uncertain situations. They remain vulnerable to organized crime and other violent forces, as well as the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. CLINIC calls on the Biden administration to not only rescind MPP but also address the inhumane conditions under which those currently in the program are forced to live.

CLINIC, through Estamos Unidos, continues to stand by asylum seekers and migrants in Juarez and call attention to the injustices on the border. Learn more about our project here.