Seven Migrant Protection Protocols stories from Estamos Unidos: Asylum Project

The following seven stories highlight the hardships and inhumane conditions asylum seekers, who are subject to the Migrant Protection Protocols and metering practices, have endured. CLINIC’s team at the Estamos Unidos: Asylum Project have provided support and services to the asylum seekers since the summer, ranging from know your rights presentations, translation of asylum-related documents, securing of pro bono counsel and general accompaniment to uphold their dignity.

  1. Xiomara* and her teenaged daughter Jenny* are from Honduras. Xiomara was a teacher for more than 15 years. Gang members had threatened to harm Xiomara and her colleagues many times at school. The threats and attacks against her colleagues became so severe that most teachers requested extended leaves and moved to other places to keep safe. The threats reached a tipping point when they were no longer directed at Xiomara, but at her teenage daughter. The family decided to separate, and Xiomara and her daughter traveled to seek protection in the United States. However, once they entered the United States, Customs and Border Patrol officials placed them under MPP and returned them to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to wait for their initial master calendar hearing in January 2020. 

    In Juarez, members of organized crime kidnapped the mother and daughter for five days and six nights. They were forced to stay in a small room in a house where people came and went, music always played loudly and drugs were strewn in plain sight. Jenny remembers seeing a man snorting white powder. She said she saw very bad things — things she never had imagined before.

    They were able to escape, but had nowhere to go or any idea where they were. They crawled through desert-like empty lots and hid in a ditch before reaching a public area where they sought help. They are now staying in a shelter, but rarely leave out of fear that they could be kidnapped again. Xiomara does not know what will become of them — but understands that they are easy prey and never safe.
  2. Angela* is an 18-year-old single mother and survivor of gender-based and gang violence. She fled Honduras to seek asylum with her baby boy, who turned a year old in Ciudad Juarez while waiting for their initial hearing in February 2020. She is alone and scared in a foreign country and in a city where increased instances of violence against women have been reported. She is unable to attend school or work. Angela’s life is on pause until her hearing date. She said there are days where she simply does not know what to do. She contemplates the possibility of returning to Honduras, despite knowing she would not be safe there.
  3. MPP continues to separate families. Juan,* a young man from El Salvador seeking protection from gang violence, was recently returned to Ciudad Juarez under MPP. Although he entered the United States with his wife, who is seven months pregnant, Juan was returned to Ciudad Juarez alone. Juan has not stopped crying since the separation. He is in shock. “How could they do this to me? Why would they separate us? I promised to always take care of her… that I would always be there for her. We are going to have a girl,” he said. He has not been able to speak with his wife, but confirmed with a family member in the United States that she was on her way to them. As he wanders around a shelter in Ciudad Juarez, he looks lost and is confused about how he got there and how he was separated from his wife and unborn daughter.
  4. Elizabeth,* 24, fled gang violence with her 2-year-old toddler, was placed under MPP and waited months for her hearing before immigration courts in El Paso. Days before the hearing, her child was taken from her. She did not appear for her Master Calendar Hearing in El Paso because she was searching for her child. As a result, the immigration judge entered an order of removal in absentia — or in absence — against her and her child. The very system meant to protect asylum seekers like Elizabeth, instead, put her and her son in harm’s way.
  5. Nicole* fled Honduras with her husband Wilmer* and their young child. Her father was recently murdered and most of their family is either dead or fleeing for their lives. She is a strong woman, but when asked if she fears being in Juarez, she does her best to hold back tears. The men that have been hunting down her family have tried to find them in Mexico as well. They have tried to find a safe place to wait for their hearing, but she knows they will never be safe amongst organized crime in Mexico. They have already escaped two kidnapping attempts. In the most recent attempt against their lives, however, she fell trying to escape one of the men and suffered a miscarriage. She prays for her family to stay alive and be able to appear before a U.S. immigration court in December."

    Wilmer’s eyes are red from not sleeping. He does not eat much, and he says very little. When asked if he feared being in Mexico, his eyes widened and he said, “Yes.” When asked why he fears being in Mexico, he bluntly stated that organized crime does not end. He was seeking safety for his family in the United States — instead, they were placed at greater risk.
  6. A young married couple, Dayanara and Carlos,* left Cuba a year ago and were subjected to the metering system for six months. When border officials finally called their names, they were placed under MPP and returned to Ciudad Juarez. As they tried to move around the city, they received threats from a cartel who followed them constantly. They reached out to Mexican authorities, but were told nothing could be done because there was no way to track who was threatening them. The couple has lived in constant fear since their return to Ciudad Juarez.  
  7. A family of three — father, son and daughter — fled Venezuela to Panama due to political persecution, after they opposed the ruling party. Upon arrival to Panama, they applied for protection, but were harassed, abused and constantly targeted because of increased xenophobia against Venezuelan nationals. Local residents threatened the son and beat him badly. In addition, officials denied the family access to education and health care. As a result, they fled Panama, traveling through Central America and Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. Upon arrival, Mexican authorities mistreated and extorted them by unlawfully retaining their passports.

    Both father and son survived beatings, abuse and attempted kidnapping in Mexico. The teenaged daughter experienced an attempted sexual assault, from which she suffers continued signs of trauma and possible mental health complications. Eventually, they crossed the border to the United States, and immigration authorities placed them under MPP. Fearing more persecution and violence, they now spend all their time at a shelter in Ciudad Juarez.

The Migrant Protection Protocols have negatively affected thousands of people like Xiomara, Dayanara and Carlos, and Wilmer and Nicole — all trying to secure a better future for themselves and their families. Forcing asylum seekers to wait in dangerous cities or be returned to their country of origin is immoral and inhumane, and the only acceptable outcome would be for this practice to end. CLINIC has been supporting asylum seekers’ access to information on their rights and how to connect with legal representation since the summer.

Learn more about CLINIC’s continued commitment to upholding the rights and dignity of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border through the Estamos Unidos project:

*All names have been changed to protect identities.