SAN DIEGO -- A woman from Honduras loaded into the back of an SUV a week ago outside a migrant shelter in Mexicali with her two young daughters.
The woman, who asked to be identified only by her first initial K, was about to begin her journey to Tijuana and then across the border to appear before a U.S. immigration judge for the first time in her asylum case. Her partner kissed her goodbye. Though they had asked for protection in the U.S. together, his case was scheduled to begin weeks after hers.
K clutched her 1-year-old daughter tightly in her arms. Her 4-year-old squeezed into the seat beside her next to another woman holding her three-year-old daughter.
Asylum-seekers returned by the U.S. government to Mexicali to wait for their immigration court cases do not go to the immigration court in Imperial, Calif. They have to find a way travel more than 100 miles to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana to go to hearings in San Diego.
Last Thursday, 26 of the 47 people returned to Mexicali scheduled for court, or 55 percent, managed to get there.
The program, officially called Migrant Protection Protocols and known by many as "Remain in Mexico," began under the Trump administration in January at the port of entry in Tijuana. It expanded slowly at first, adding asylum-seekers arriving at ports of entry in Calexico and parts of Texas as well as those caught crossing illegally by Border Patrol.
One of former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's last acts was to begin a rapid ramp up of the program. That paused when a federal judge temporarily blocked the policy, but it has since resumed at full force following an appeal of that decision.
At the beginning of March, 157 people seeking asylum had been returned. As of Friday, May 10, according to a Mexican official, more than 2,800 had been sent back to Baja, the Mexican state that includes both Tijuana and Mexicali. Of those, just over 900 went to Mexicali, an official said.
Neither the U.S. government nor the Mexican government helps the asylum-seekers returned to Mexicali get to Tijuana for court.
Eleven of the people who made it were supported by two U.S. citizens volunteering in Mexicali and another small group of Mexican citizens in Tijuana.