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This Migrant Won in Immigration Court and Was Sent Back to Mexico Anyway

Jesus, a migrant from Venezuela, sought asylum in the U.S. and a judge granted him protection from deportation but he was still sent to Mexico as part of the Remain in Mexico program. He joins the more than 55,000 migrants who have been forced to await their fate in Mexico under the program established by the Trump administration, which has only made receiving asylum in the U.S. that much more difficult.

“The Trump administration is trying to basically frighten refugees away from the United States,” Kennji Kizuka, a lawyer with Human Rights First who helped Jesus told NPR. “To make it so scary and dangerous for them to come to the border and ask for help that they just give up and go away or never come to begin with.”

According to the publication, immigrant advocates have identified at least 17 cases of migrants who have been returned to Mexico after being granted protection in court. Additional data shows that as of September 2019, of the more than 47,000 people in the program, less than 10,000 have completed their cases and of those, a little over 5,000 were denied and 4,471 were dismissed mainly on procedural grounds. Only 0.1 percent — 11 cases total —  were granted asylum, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

The purpose of the program is so that by forcing migrants to spend months in Mexico waiting for their cases, they would presumably be deterred from filing bogus asylum claims. As a result,  courts would then have time to process legitimate claims.

In Jesus’s case, Customs and Border Protection says it can return migrants to Mexico while authorities consider whether to appeal an immigration judge’s ruling. He was given paperwork for a court date in November 2019 but NPR reports that date didn’t appear on any court docket.

“They put a fake date on a piece of paper that says you have an upcoming hearing. And there was no hearing,” Kizuka told NPR.

The reason the court date is integral is because per the rules of the program (formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols), migrants can return to the U.S. only if their court case is pending.

Jesus, who worked as a police officer, and his mother left Venezuela after he refused to arrest members of a political opposition party on fake charges. His superiors then went after him and his family, putting Jesus in jail and beating him and refusing his father treatment he needed for a heart condition at a local government hospital. His mother was followed and they threatened her with a gun and beatings which led them to decide to leave their homeland.

While he remained in Mexico, his mother had been detained in Louisiana. Kizuka fought for him to be returned to the States and officers at the border initially denied him but eventually let him return. He and his mother and sister have been reunited in Florida, fighting for full asylum protection.

“I hoped the treatment would be warmer, more humane,” Jesus told NPR through a translator. “But the officials are really harsh and insulting to migrants. And the system is really complicated.”

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