Asylum Seekers Barred at the Border Make the Choice to Survive
In late February, we interviewed *Daniel at the Karnes family detention center in Texas. Daniel had fled political persecution in Nicaragua and arrived in Piedras Negras, Mexico with his young son specifically intending to request asylum at the Eagle Pass port of entry. But the night he arrived, U.S. and Mexican forces had blocked the bridge leading to the U.S. port of entry. Afraid to sleep on the streets with his young son in the notoriously dangerous border region, Daniel felt he had no choice but to cross the frigid and rapid currents of the Rio Grande to reach the United States. After crossing the river Daniel and his son turned themselves in to the Border Patrol to request asylum.
Daniel’s story is not uncommon. Rampant violence, repression, and deprivations in Central America have prompted many to flee in search of refuge in the United States and other countries in the region. By mid-2018, the UN Refugee Agency noted that there were over 300,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from Central America, a 54 percent increase compared to mid-2017. In the last several years, countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and Belize have experienced a “drastic increase” in the number of refugees from Central America. Many have credible claims to protection that the U.S. government has a legal and moral obligation to consider. Yet Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) regularly turns away asylum seekers at ports of entry from San Ysidro, California to Brownsville, Texas.
These turnbacks push asylum seekers to cross the border away from ports of entry in search of asylum. We along with our colleagues at Human Rights First have spoken with many asylum seekers in Mexico who were considering or had tried crossing between ports of entry because they were blocked from California and Texas ports of entry. A CBP official acknowledged to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security that the “backlogs” created by “metering” and turning asylum seekers away “likely resulted in additional border crossings.”
Across the U.S.-Mexico border, asylum seekers who have been turned away by CBP at ports of entry are forced to join weeks- or months-long waiting “lists” before they can approach a port to request protection. Our recent research in Texas demonstrates that CBP routinely blocks asylum seekers, like Daniel and his son, who attempt to request protection at the Eagle Pass port of entry as well as the two closest ports at Del Rio and Laredo—resulting in sometimes months-long waits to request protection. During this wait, families are susceptible to violence, kidnapping, extortion, and other crimes, as well as the potential for summary deportation to their country of persecution. CBP works in close collaboration with Mexican migration officials to block asylum seekers from reaching these ports of entry, forces them to place their names on informal waiting “lists,” and regulates when and who will be processed to claim asylum.
Daniel was not aware of the “list” in Piedras Negras, but even if had joined it, he and his son would have been forced to wait in a region of Mexico where asylum seekers and migrants face deadly dangers. The choice Daniel and his son made out of fear for the harms that would befall his family is becoming more routine among asylum seekers that arrive at our nation’s border hoping simply to survive.
Read more about the dangers of these waiting "lists" in our most recent report, Barred at the Border.