Asylum-seekers turned away at the United States’ southern border over the last four months have reported nearly 500 cases of attacks or kidnappings in Mexico, according to a new joint report from three human rights and immigration organizations.
Human Rights First, Al Otro Lado and Haitian Bridge Alliance documented 492 reports of violent attacks since Biden took office, including rape, kidnapping and assault. In each case, the victim was someone who had been turned away at the border under Title 42, a law invoked by the Trump administration that allows border officials to send people back under the pretense of pandemic safety. Many of those turned away remain in Mexico, even if it is not their home country, either in hopes of getting another chance or because they have run out of resources to go elsewhere.
The Biden administration has been criticized for continuing the use of Title 42. Since March 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has expelled more than 642,700 people under the order, including over 100,000 people in March 2021 alone.
Although Biden promised his administration would not use Title 42 to expel unaccompanied minors and has allowed some asylum-seekers into the U.S. for their court hearings, immigration advocates say continued use of Title 42 is inhumane and ineffective, in large part because asylum-seekers face such dangerous and desperate situations after they are turned away.
“What I have before me is our clients being assaulted, being kidnapped, being sex trafficked, being tortured, being raped,” said Nicole Ramos, director of Al Otro Lado’s Border Rights Project, “and what I see before me with Title 42 not being repealed is the Biden administration doing nothing to prevent that.”
In Mexico, asylum-seekers face danger from criminal gang members who in many reported cases have kidnapped or threatened to kidnap them for ransom. Many live in poverty and lack access to essential services, food and water because they are in limbo, hoping to cross.
Earlier this month, a 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy and his mother were kidnapped just hours after they were refused entry and sent to Mexico under Title 42. Another woman from El Salvador was reportedly kidnapped and raped in front of her 3-year-old son after she was also expelled under the same policy.
“Despite his frequent pledges to reverse President Trump’s cruelty at the border, President Biden is continuing a policy that is wreaking havoc: it endangers children, drives family separations, and illegally returns asylum seekers to danger, including Black and LGBTQ refugees forced to endure bias-motivated violence in Mexico,” the report said.
Those targeted asylum-seekers documented in Tuesday’s report came from over 17 nations including Haiti, Cameroon, Guatemala, Russia, Somalia, Venezuela and Yemen, according to the report, which was based on more than 110 in-person interviews, an electronic survey of more than 1,200 asylum-seekers, data from the Mexican and U.S. governments, and other media and human rights reports.
Black asylum seekers were disproportionately affected. Despite the administration’s rollback of the 2019 Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” which forced individuals to return to Mexico as they awaited court hearings, the report noted that Black refugees from Africa and the Caribbean remained stranded in Mexico. At least 61% of Haitian asylum-seekers who were trapped in Mexico were victims of crime there.
Muhamed, an asylum-seeker from East Africa who arrived in Mexico in February 2020, told reporters in a press call about the report about the mistreatment he faced while waiting to cross into the U.S.
Muhamed, who did not use his full name since his asylum case is still under consideration, said he was extorted into paying hundreds of pesos to police for protection and struggled to pay rent and purchase food for his family.
“As a Black person, life was very hard,” he said.
Muhamed said he was among the lucky ones; he was eventually granted entry into the U.S. None of the more than 150 asylum-seekers Human Rights First interviewed in March and April 2021 said that U.S. immigration officers had referred them to apply for asylum or granted them a protection screening before they were expelled to Mexico.
“I am speaking in the name of all those people. For those children. For those Black migrants who look like me and their skin color is criminalized,” he said.