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Grassroots Action Center

Urge Protection for asylum seekers in northern Mexico
“Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”’” (1 Samuel 3:8–9, NRSV).

We are called to accompany the most vulnerable—to seek justice and kindness[1]—and when we hear the Lord calling us, we are to say, “your servant is listening.” Populations on the move, seeking protection, security, and stability in other places, need accompaniment as they endeavor on dangerous and uncertain journeys. In the Americas, migrant shelters are key locations where migrants can find a safe place to sleep and rest and find assistance for other needs, like medical, legal, and spiritual care. Migrant shelter workers do the job of tending to those needs and protecting weary, at-risk people. Many, because of the relationship built with countless migrants, become advocates for migrant safety, protection, and rights. Human rights work is woven into what they do, either through direct service or by speaking up for increased efforts to allow the safe movement of people.

Irregular crossings along our southern border remain low. However, the makeup of those crossing has changed. The majority are now family units or unaccompanied children (UACs) who cross the border to ask for protection, to seek asylum. The United States, under the Immigration and Nationality Act in Section 208 explains how someone would do that—they must be on U.S. territory or interdicted in international waters. Our government, regardless of political affiliation, has struggled with how to honor this section of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The current administration has decided that our asylum law has “loopholes” and people are taking advantage. They have placed deterrence efforts in enforcement policies, striving to keep people from even making it to the United States to make their claim.

The two policies creating the largest bottleneck of migrants at our southern border is a practice called metering and the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or Remain in Mexico program. Metering is the policy that keeps individuals from reaching U.S. soil at ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection, or other private policing firms, stand on the international line between the United States and Mexico or are in Mexican territory to deny entry into the United States, blocking the person’s ability to ask for asylum. They are stuck in Mexico without recourse to figure out how to enter. The Migrant Protection Protocols established by the Department of Homeland Security is said to “help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system, and the ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations, and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need” (Department of Homeland Security, Migrant Protection Protocols). The Remain in Mexico program allows the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to return any migrant they believe will not be harmed to Mexico to wait out their court case after they passed the credible fear interview. Again, these individuals are not usually Mexican nationals, they have no viable way to care for themselves, and they have no way to question the decision.

Both of these policies are making the borderlands in northern Mexico very dangerous and precarious. When people are on the move, they are extremely vulnerable. They no longer have their community safety nets to protect them; they are fleeing violence and threats, and they are desperate. Mexico is widely unprepared to receive large numbers of people and were not consulted prior to the implementation of the Remain in Mexico program. As municipal governments and nongovernmental organizations scramble to provide housing and security for thousands of new individuals, they are grossly underfunded and understaffed. Overcrowding has meant that shelters are turning people away. Churches and private individuals have opened space to receive families in the void. Also stepping into the void are actors of organized crime groups. Cartels and other gangs find the desperation and helplessness of migrants as an advantage. They target migrants for extortion, recruitment, and common thievery. As staff workers at migrant shelters are housing many more people, they are trying to keep those individuals safe from these lurking dangers. That has caused many to be in direct confrontation with very powerful cartels and gangs in northern Mexico. Death threats to staff are increasing in quantity and severity. We have received news reports of kidnappings of migrant shelter staff when they do not hand over migrants to those organizations. Many shelters have reported that groups have entered shelters in search of migrants. The combination is proving deadly.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has partners along the U.S.-Mexico border who run shelters or work at shelters. They are called to provide hospitality and safety to their siblings on the move. They hear God’s call and answer, “Here I am,” despite threats and danger. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship runs an accompaniment program at one shelter, offering their presence to provide a blanket of security for migrant shelter workers. Fear among these workers is growing. They are afraid that the Mexican government is ill-equipped and lacks the political will to provide the necessary protections for workers and migrants. They witness the increase in violence and are scared that dangerous precedence is established as criminal groups operate in an environment of impunity. We can help.

It is time to call on your senators and legislators. We must urge them to stop the dangerous immigration enforcement policies that are placing at-risk populations in more precarious environments. We must demand that Congress uphold asylum law and allow for an open flow of people as they access due process to hear out their asylum cases. We must insist that Congress pressure the Mexican government to provide safety and security measures that keep migrants and shelter workers safe and brings perpetrators and aggressors to justice.

[1] Micah 6:8
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