Migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border

Asylum-seekers prepare to be taken to a U.S. Border Patrol processing facility after crossing into the U.S. on June 16, 2021, in La Joya, Texas.

(Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Human Rights Watch to Mexico: Don't Help US 'Tear Apart' Its Asylum System

The group sent a letter to the Mexican president Thursday asking him not to agree to any deal that would see more asylum seekers expelled to Mexico without having their cases considered.

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Thursday asking him not to broker any deal with the United States that would allow more asylum seekers to be sent to Mexico without due process.

The letter, also addressed to Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, was sent one day before the pair were set to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C.

"I would like to urge the Mexican government to make a clear and public declaration that it will not agree to participate in any new migration management arrangement with the United States, whether formal or informal, that would lead to an increase in the expulsions of non-Mexican migrants and asylum seekers to Mexico, close existing legal pathways for migration, limit access to international protection, or establish a de facto 'safe third country' agreement with the United States," HRW Americas director Juanita Goebertus Estrada wrote in the letter.

The letter comes as the Biden administration is considering agreeing to immigration demands from Senate Republicans in exchange for $110 billion in funding for Ukraine, Israel, and other national security issues, as The Associated Press reported in December. Some of the policies under consideration include enabling the U.S. to expel asylum seekers to Mexico without hearing their claims; enshrining a Trump-era rule requiring that asylum seekers who pass through a third country prove that they applied for asylum there first and were denied; and essentially ending the humanitarian parole arrangement for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans to travel in the U.S, according to HRW.

"These proposals would violate basic rights and further empower the criminal groups in Mexico that profit from kidnapping and extorting vulnerable migrants," Goebertus said in a statement.

Many of these proposals are similar to Trump-era policies that were challenged in court, but immigrant rights advocates worry that they would be harder to challenge if enshrined in law, AP reported.

"The Mexican president should make it clear he does not intend to be complicit in U.S. legislators' attempts to tear apart the U.S. asylum system."

"I never would have imagined that in a moment where we have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House we are coming to the table and proposing some of the most draconian immigration policies that there have ever been," Maribel Hernández Rivera, the American Civil Liberties Union director of policy and government affairs, told AP.

However, Obrador has a degree of leverage over these polices, because the U.S. cannot expel asylum seekers to Mexico without the cooperation of the Mexican government, HRW pointed out.

"President López Obrador has the opportunity to stand up for the rights of thousands of vulnerable mostly Latin American migrants and asylum seekers by refusing to make yet another deal to allow the U.S. to summarily expel people to Mexico," Goebertus said. "The Mexican president should make it clear he does not intend to be complicit in U.S. legislators' attempts to tear apart the U.S. asylum system."

In the past, Obrador has agreed to allow the U.S. to expel non-Mexican migrants back to Mexico under the "Return to Mexico" and Title 42 polices. He has also tried to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. through Mexico. However, asylum seekers returned to Mexico have been exposed to dangers including kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder. HRW notes that U.S., Mexican, and international law all recognize the right to asylum and to not be sent back into a dangerous situation, formally known as refoulement.

In the letter, Goebertus also pointed out that ending the humanitarian parole program would mean renegotiating a deal with Mexico whereby Mexico agreed to receive 30,000 Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan asylum seekers and migrants expelled from the U.S. every month while the U.S. would allow the same number to apply to travel within its borders. In addition, a policy both expelling asylum seekers to Mexico and requiring them to apply and be rejected in Mexico first would together create what amounts to a safe third country deal between the two countries, an agreement the Obrador administration has previously opposed.

"President López Obrador should prioritize Mexicans' security and the basic rights of vulnerable migrants and make it clear Mexico will not participate in facilitating further expulsions," Goebertus said.

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