HRW Report Reveals 'Huge Toll' of US Border Policy on 20,000+ Children

Asylum-seekers wait in line to receive breakfast outside a temporary shelter on Nov. 24, 2018 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

HRW Report Reveals 'Huge Toll' of US Border Policy on 20,000+ Children

"The Biden administration is knowingly leaving children in harm's way. The administration should immediately resume winding down Remain in Mexico and give everybody a fair shot at seeking asylum at U.S. borders."

More than 20,000 asylum-seeking children have been placed at risk of "serious harm" by the U.S. and Mexican governments as a result of the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols continued under the Biden administration, according to Human Rights Watch analysis published Friday.

"The Biden administration has left vulnerable asylum-seekers stranded and should reverse course immediately."

"The data shows how many children the Trump administration wrongly sent to dangerous conditions in Mexico, many of them still there a year after President Joe Biden came into office with pledges to end this program," Human Rights Watch (HRW) U.S. border researcher Ari Sawyer said in a statement. "With efforts to account for and process those children and their families on indefinite hold, the Biden administration has left vulnerable asylum-seekers stranded and should reverse course immediately."

According to data provided to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) by U.S. immigration courts, the United States sent at least 21,300 asylum-seeking children and their families to dangerous Mexican border cities under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)--also known as the "Remain in Mexico" policy--during Donald Trump's presidency.

HRW notes:

Some of these children were able to reenter the United States between February and August 2021, when the Biden administration initially terminated the program. But the administration halted the wind-down process in August 2021, leaving behind at least 15,000 children. The administration said it restarted the program in December to comply with a federal court order and has since placed over 330 adults, but no children, in the program. However, the administration has sent family units with children to Mexico and other countries more than 145,000 times under another abusive anti-asylum measure, the Title 42 border expulsion policy.

Title 42--a section of the Public Health Safety Act first invoked by the Trump administration as the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020 and continued by Biden--has been condemned by advocates as a pretext to deport migrants who are legally seeking asylum in the United States. The controversial policy has been upheld by a federal court.

The Trump administration sent more than 71,000 asylum-seekers of all ages to Mexico under the bilateral MPP program, under which the migrants must wait there while U.S. immigration courts adjudicate their claims.

HRW found that asylum-seekers in Mexico are "often unable to support themselves or access basic services, such as shelter, food, water, safe transportation, or healthcare, and have no recourse for abuses from criminal cartels or Mexican authorities."

"The problem is one cannot have a normal or dignified life as a migrant here."

The advocacy group has also documented numerous child kidnappings and other crimes, including sexual violence.

"The problem is one cannot have a normal or dignified life as a migrant here," one asylum-seeking woman told HRW in Mexico. "More than anything, it's really dangerous."

The new HRW report comes a year after Biden issued executive orders aimed at strengthening and expanding U.S. asylum and resettlement capacities. Last February, the president also announced his intention to raise the number of refugees allowed into the United States from a record low of 15,000 under the openly xenophobic Trump administration to 125,000.

Following outrage over an administration directive keeping the refugee cap at 15,000, Biden raised the admission limit to 62,500 in May, while acknowledging that the actual number of people admitted would fall far short of that ceiling. In September, the president recommended raising the cap to 125,000.

Biden has also been criticized for continuing the MPP regime. Last December, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick--a former immigration attorney who is now policy counsel at the American Immigration Council--accused the administration of making the policy "even worse" than it was under Trump.

"The Biden administration is knowingly leaving children in harm's way," Sawyer said. "The administration should immediately resume winding down Remain in Mexico and give everybody a fair shot at seeking asylum at U.S. borders."

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