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December 20, 2018

The Refugee Blockade Turns Deadly

Following the tragic death of seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosmery Caal Maquin, which drew widespread attention to dangerous conditions in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement laying blame on migrant families and exhorting them to seek asylum at official border crossings: “Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally. Please present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely.” But for years CBP has turned away asylum seekers at U.S. ports of entry, and in the spring of 2018 the administration began a border-wide policy to restrict asylum, citing a lack of capacity to process claims. However, in December 2018, the acting assistant commissioner of CBP reportedly admitted to Congress that CBP chose to limit the number of asylum-seekers accepted at ports of entries because “[t]he more we process, the more will come.”

Sadly, Jakelin’s was not the only death reported this week. In mid-December, two Honduran teenagers were murdered in Tijuana in an apparent robbery attempt. They had been staying in a shelter for unaccompanied children after arriving with the caravan. It is not clear whether the boys—thought to be 16 or 17 years old—planned to seek asylum, but a migrant advocate reported that nearly all unaccompanied children traveling with the caravan intend to ask for asylum in the United States. On December 18, a young man who had traveled with the caravan to the U.S.-Mexico border was murdered in Tegucigalpa, Honduras after being deported the previous week by Mexican migration officials. 

These deaths point to the predictable consequences of CBP’s policy of blocking asylum seekers at the border and limiting the number who can seek asylum. As Human Rights First reported in early December the refugee blockade:

  • pushes some asylum seekers to undertake dangerous crossing between official ports of entry;
  • prevents some unaccompanied children from seeking protection in the United States;
  • strands vulnerable refugees for weeks or months in dangerous border towns in Mexico where migrants and asylum seekers have been sexually assaulted, robbed, kidnapped and murdered; and
  • places refugees with genuine fears of persecution at risk of deportation because Mexican migration officials have repeatedly removed asylum seekers without a chance to request protection.