Politics

Human Rights Group Says Mexico Not Safe for Asylum Seekers

Immigration hawks rip claim that America's southern neighbor is too dysfunctional to host migrants

The United States should move aggressively to admit more asylum-seekers from Central America because Mexico is not safe for them, according to a report released this week by a human rights organization.

The report, by Human Rights First, knocked President Donald Trump’s policy of blocking migrants from Central America who claim persecution in their home countries. The organization argues that Mexico has a dysfunctional asylum system and rampant violence that endangers people fleeing persecution.

“Refugees face grave risks in Mexico due to kidnappers, traffickers, brutal violence, and alarming deficiencies in Mexico’s migration system, which put them at grave risk of return to persecution,” Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First, said in a prepared statement.

She continued: “Any attempt to foist U.S. refugee-protection obligations onto Mexico would force thousands of refugees to return to or remain in a country that is deeply unsafe for them, undermine U.S. global leadership, and set a poor example for countries that are hosting the vast majority of the world’s refugees.”

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The report claims that Mexico immigration officials routinely deport Central Americans who have expressed fear of return and states that the country lacks the capacity and national reach to effectively deal with a surge in asylum claims. What’s more, according to the report, many asylum seekers are unprotected once they arrive in Mexico. Mexican authorities also use detention to punish migrants for asking for asylum, the report contends.

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Human Rights First recommends that the Trump administration work with Mexico to expand protection of refugees and stop efforts to “shift refugee-protection responsibilities to Mexico.” The report argues that the administration should reverse Trump-era policies of holding up people from third countries who make asylum claims at the U.S. border, according to the report.

Some U.S. immigration experts disputed the allegation that Mexico cannot offer a safe haven for refugees.

“I know the Mexican government would disagree with that, and they have granted thousands of asylum claims just in the last year.”

“I know the Mexican government would disagree with that, and they have granted thousands of asylum claims just in the last year,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “Most of Mexico is safe. Certainly, there is violence in Mexico … But millions of people live there safely year after year. The violence is concentrated in certain areas.”

Vaughan said the Human Rights First report is in line with activists who urge the Trump administration to reverse course and return to the policy of former President Barack Obama, whose administration responded to a surge of unaccompanied minors at the Mexico border in 2014 by transporting them to relatives in the United States.

Reporting by the Associated Press and other news outlets confirmed that many of those relatives were themselves illegal immigrants. The federal government lost track of a number of teenagers placed in America.

Those minors, as well as adults, often claimed persecution and gained entry into America — complete with work authorization — while adjudication of their claims dragged on for years.

“That makes a mockery of our asylum system and clogs it up for people with legitimate claims,” Vaughan said.

She said international law requires persecuted people to claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, and she added that the Trump administration is well within its rights to block entry until authorities determine whether an asylum claim is based on a “credible fear” of violence because of political, ethnic, or religious persecution. Fleeing crime, generalized violence, or a bad economy is not sufficient grounds for asylum, Vaughan said.

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Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, said asylum fraud is rampant.

“There’s been a policy change,” he said. “And there are groups of immigration expansionists, open borders advocates … They come with these talking points to try to sway the public in their favor.”

Chmielenski said Obama’s policies on asylum and the former president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which offered quasi-amnesty to illegal immigrants brought to America as children — sent a strong signal to people in Central America that they had a good chance of being allowed to stay in America if they managed to reach the border.

“Essentially,” he said, “Obama rolled out the red carpet and encouraged people to come.”

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