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USA: Trump's illegal Mexico border crackdown is endangering lives - new report

The Trump administration has issued a tender for construction of what would be one of the largest walls on Earth © Amnesty International

Doubling in migrant deaths in parts of Arizona desert since Trump’s election


Families with children locked up for nearly two years, as detention of asylum-seekers set to double

An already dangerous journey for tens of thousands of refugees attempting to cross the Mexico-USA border has become deadlier still as a result of US President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on border control and immigration, Amnesty International said in a new report today. 

Published as the US and Mexican governments host a conference in Miami on security and governance in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala (countries from which many asylum-seekers in Mexico and the USA have fled), Amnesty’s 40-page report shows the catastrophic impact of new US policies. 

Based on research on both sides of the US-Mexico border since February, Amnesty’s report found that President Trump’s measures to “tackle immigration” are violating international law, while Mexico is itself pursuing reckless practices over asylum-seekers. 

New US measures include the 25 January Executive Order on “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” and a series of other moves which allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations and an increase to the mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end - an unlawful practice. 

According to lawyers, NGOs, migrants and human rights activists, US Customs and Border Protection officials have illegally refused entry to asylum-seekers at ports of entry along the border. Asylum-seekers have told Amnesty that the new measures had forced them to risk extortion or violence by paying smugglers to cross into the USA. Some areas of the Arizona desert have seen a doubling in migrant deaths since Trump’s election. 

A husband and wife who fled Honduras with their daughter after the husband was shot by a powerful criminal gang told Amnesty that they were turned away from the McAllen border crossing in Texas six times over a three-day period in January, despite presenting themselves to border officers to ask for asylum. Meanwhile, Nicole Ramos, a US lawyer who accompanied 71 asylum-seekers to the Tijuana-San Diego border crossing between December 2015 and April this year, told Amnesty that on nearly all occasions border officials either attempted to deny asylum-seekers entry or gave incorrect instructions such as re-directing people to the US consulate in Mexico.  

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas Director, said:

“The USA and Mexico are partners in crime.

“The USA is building a cruel watertight system to prevent people in need from receiving international protection and Mexico is all too willing to play the role of the USA’s gatekeeper.

“President Trump’s border wall strategy fails to acknowledge that these are people with no other choice but to flee their homes if they want to live. 

“His wall, questionable orders and ever-expanding immigration detention centres will not stop people from trying to enter the USA. Instead, they will only be forced to take deadly routes through the desert, river and sea.

“In this sick cat-and-mouse game, the only losers are the hundreds of thousands desperately fleeing extreme and deadly violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”

Doubling of US detention centres

President Trump’s Border Security Executive Order also includes increasing the capacity of existing detention centres for migrants and asylum-seekers.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are plans to allocate up to 33,500 more spaces for beds in immigration detention centres, potentially almost doubling the country’s daily detention capacity. This goes far beyond a congressionally-imposed bed quota of 34,000 per day - reinforcing the cruelty behind what is already the world’s largest immigration detention system. 

Amnesty has documented cases of families with babies and children who have been locked up for nearly two years. In the coming months, the US Congress will debate whether to fund such cruelty in the 2018 budget. Keeping a person in a detention centre is estimated to cost the US Government between $126-161 a day, whereas alternative measures to detention cost as little as $6 a day per person. 

Mexico, the USA’s gatekeeper?

Amnesty has also found that Mexico is failing in its responsibility to protect the increasing number of Central Americans seeking protection in the country. According to official figures, last year a record 8,788 asylum claims were lodged in Mexico in comparison to 1,296 in 2013. Of these, 35% were recognised as refugees, with 91% originating from the violence-wracked “Northern Triangle” of Central America (Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala). The UN Refugee Agency has forecast as many as 20,000 claims in Mexico in 2017. 

However, instead of providing protection, Mexico has pushed people back to extremely dangerous situations. Last year, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration detained 188,595 migrants (81% of these from Central America), and returned 147,370 to their countries of origin. Of those deported, 97% were from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and many were not informed of their rights to seek protection through an asylum claim. 

One 23-year-old man who left Honduras five years ago fearing for his life, has been deported from Mexico more than two dozen times. After being forcibly recruited as an orphan aged 13, a criminal gang wants to kill him for fleeing its ranks. He said: “I’ve been deported 27 times from Mexico. The Mexican migration agents don’t care why you’re leaving your country. They make fun of you.”  

When Amnesty raised the issue with the authorities, a Mexican migration official in the southern border state of Chiapas said: “We try to make the return to their countries as quick as possible.”

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