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Asylum-seekers forced to remain in Mexicali face long journey to court hearings

Kate Morrissey, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

Initially, they planned to stay in Chiapas, but the people threatening them found them there, and they had to flee farther north.

They crossed illegally into the U.S. after reaching Mexicali and surrendered themselves to Border Patrol to ask for asylum, she said. They had planned to go stay with her father, who is here on a visa and living in Alabama.

Her other brother fled Honduras about a year ago and has been living with their father while he waits for his court case.

When the group reached the bus station in Tijuana, Maria Lourdes Arias, a volunteer with Families Belong Together, was waiting to greet them.

All 14 asylum-seekers piled into Arias's van, and she drove them to the hotel in Zona Centro. None of the asylum-seekers had ever been to Tijuana.

"I've heard Tijuana is dangerous," said the one father in the group, who was traveling with his 7-year-old daughter.

Like any other city, Arias responded, there are dangerous parts and parts that are fine.

She took them to eat and told them to relax the rest of the day. They would visit attorneys with Al Otro Lado, a legal services organization that supports migrants in Tijuana, the next day to learn what to expect in court.

On Thursday, she said, they would take an Uber to the border to present for their hearings.

When they arrived around 8 a.m. on Thursday, an official at the port of entry told K that there had been a mistake. Her name wasn't on the list of people to let into court. She would have to come back again in a few weeks.

She found her own way back to her partner in Mexicali while the rest, escorted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, rode a government bus to downtown San Diego.

They were among nearly 100 returnees who had court in San Diego that day, according to a court official. Three judges were scheduled to hear cases.

Judge Jesus Clemente heard all of the Calexico cases on Thursday, his first day of MPP hearings.

Instead of calling each case to come before him to speak individually, he spent most of the 45 minutes that the asylum-seekers were present before him addressing them as a group.


"This is very complicated," Clemente told them. "I'm going to try to get through this as quickly as I can so you can take care of your children."

The room already murmured with the babble and cries of the youngest there.

He explained that the Department of Homeland Security had failed to file required documents in many of their cases, meaning that they couldn't start the process that day.

He called the cases of the eight people whose paperwork had been correctly filed. He asked them to say their full names and whether they wanted to fight their cases. Then he scheduled for them to come back in July and sent them out to the lobby.

The rest, including the 11 whose trips had been paid by Border Kindness and Families Belong Together, would have to return in June. Their court cases had not yet officially begun.

Before sending them out to join their fellow asylum-seekers, Clemente said he wanted to offer them some advice. Get a lawyer, he emphasized, if you can find one.

"I don't know how you're going to do this in Mexico to be honest with you," he said. "You're really in a very tough situation."

Meanwhile, Families Belong Together and Border Kindness are trying to figure out what to do with asylum-seekers once they're sent back to Mexico from their court hearings. Should they stay in Tijuana since they have to be back there in a month or two? Should they go back to Mexicali where they at least know a little bit of the city?

Either way, Overton said, the already-packed shelters in both cities will soon be so overburdened that returnees will have no place to go. The same day the group of 14 left Mexicali, 74 more were returned for the first time to wait.

(c)2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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