Collateral damage from the administration’s determination to turn back the northward flow of desperate people has fallen heavily on migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador forced to remain in Mexico under an administration policy adopted in January, and since expanded, as they await adjudication of their asylum claims. The program bears the antiseptic-sounding name “Migrant Protection Protocols.” In fact, it affords asylum seekers precious little protection.
To the contrary, thousands of migrants, waylaid for months in Ciudad Juárez and other Mexican cities with high crime rates, are frequent targets of kidnapping gangs, which demand ransom from the victims’ relatives at home. In Mexico, shelter for the migrants is inadequate; living conditions are harsh; access to lawyers is scant.
More than 42,000 asylum applicants have been shunted to Mexico under the program, but half are believed to have given up on their bids and returned to their home countries. No doubt, some had wished mainly to improve their financial prospects by finding work in the United States, or hoped to escape domestic or gang violence. Many of these would not have qualified under the criteria the Trump administration has set for granting asylum: persecution arising from race, religion, nationality, or membership in a political or social group. Others, however, might have met the criteria but felt too exposed or frightened to continue waiting in Mexico.
To its credit, Mexico has granted work permits and social security numbers to migrants awaiting adjudication of their asylum applications in the United States. It is now facing a surge in asylum applicants itself, owing to a Supreme Court ruling allowing the Trump administration to enforce a new policy, at least for now, denying refuge to migrants who pass through another country on their way to the United States without seeking asylum there. That is likely to overwhelm Mexico’s limited absorption capacity: Last year, the country’s refugee agency processed fewer than a fifth of nearly 30,000 migrants who applied for asylum there. The agency, which had just a few dozen employees and a minuscule budget, is now receiving additional funding from the Mexican government and the United Nations.
President Trump, who has proclaimed this country “full,” wants out of the United States’ traditional role as a haven for asylum seekers and refugees. In doing so, he might satisfy a political agenda, but he shifts a burden to neighbors far less capable of handling it; sets a dispiriting and — we would say — un-American example for other nations in the world; and, perhaps most harmfully, deprives the United States of the sort of people who have contributed enormously to the nation throughout its history.