TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Since the Migrant Protection Protocols were implemented a little more than a year ago, U.S. Customs and Border Protection says nearly 60,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico.
At first, migrants were bused to El Paso, Texas then to Mexico.
The process changed in January when CBP started returning migrants to Mexico through Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
In Nogales, the group Kino Border Initiative works to provide humanitarian aid to migrants. The group provides meals to migrants twice a day in addition to medical and legal aid.
Katie Sharar, director of communications for Kino Border Initiative, said the resources in Nogales are stretched thin.
“There’s not so many shelters. It’s cold at night. The kids have illnesses,” Sharar said.
Sharar heard stories from migrants fleeing violence and persecution in Central America who were told by U.S. immigration officials they had to choose where to go.
“Would you like to go back to Guatemala or back to Mexico to wait and they said neither and they said you have to choose one. So, they chose Mexico just because at least there is a tiny, tiny sliver of opportunity,” Sharar said.
Many migrants are given preliminary court dates with immigration judges two to three months away.
Because there’s a lack of immigration judges in southern Arizona, migrants sent to Nogales, Sonora, are still required to see a judge more than seven hours away in El Paso, Texas.
“A lot of people are very unfamiliar with Mexico. A lot of people don’t even speak Spanish. It’s also through pretty dangerous territory in Chihuahua and Sonora and so there’s just a lot of uncertainty on the parts of people who are subject to MPP,” Sharar said.
Can’t go back because it’s too dangerous, expensive
KOLD News 13 spoke with two women too afraid to speak on camera. They were scared that the violence they’re fleeing from in Honduras and Guatemala will catch up to them and their children.
Both women said they were surprised to learn they would be sent to Mexico once they arrived to the U.S.
Each paid more than $5,000 to get to the border, only to be told they couldn’t stay to make their claims for asylum.
However, the women said they can’t go back because it’s too dangerous and too expensive. So, for now, they’ll wait.
“It feels like one of the most cruel things that the U.S. could possibly do to people who are already traumatized and already fleeing extremely difficult, dangerous and vulnerable situations,” Sharar said.
The situation in the U.S. has been difficult, too.
During 2019, KOLD News 13 visited different shelters across the southwest that were overwhelmed with migrants.
Now, because many migrants are being returned to Mexico under MPP, a lot of the shelters are empty.
“Some of the pop-up shelters have closed because there just isn’t enough activity to justify keeping them open,” said Rev. Mike Lonergan, a pastor in Tucson.
KOLD News 13 reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see how this policy has been affecting its operations. Neither the Border Patrol nor Customs would provide an interview about this topic but CBP did provide the following statement saying the goals of the policy are:
“To reduce the extraordinary strain on our border security and immigration system by freeing up personnel and resources to better protect U.S. sovereignty and the rule of law. Another goal of MPP is to discourage the abuse of U.S. laws as well as non-meritorious or false asylum claims. Aliens will not be permitted to disappear into the U.S. before a court issues a final decision on their claim for protection under U.S. law. Instead, they await a determination in Mexico. This allows the United States to more effectively administer its laws, including assisting legitimate asylum seekers and individuals fleeing persecution, while also ensuring that aliens with non-meritorious or even fraudulent claims no longer have an incentive for making the journey.”
No signs of slowing down
Recent video from the border with Central America and Mexico shows there are even more migrants making their way north.
IT’s a humanitarian crisis showing no signs of slowing down.
Groups like KBI don’t plan to stop either and plan to open a new overnight shelter for migrants later this month.
“As long as the policy is in effect, we’ll do whatever we can to make sure that people are fed and taken care of,” Sharar said.
Since January, CBP says about 400 migrants from the Tucson Sector have been sent to Mexico through Nogales.
What remains unknown, is how many migrants have been apprehended in the Tucson Sector and bused to other places like El Paso.
KOLD News 13 has requested those numbers.