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Trump's new asylum rule strands Central American migrants in Tijuana

Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

TIJUANA, Mexico -- There was confusion on Monday among northbound migrants in Tijuana, following the Trump administration's latest effort to ban virtually all foreigners from filing for asylum in the United States.

Many, like Milsa Garcia, hadn't even heard of the plan. The 33-year-old Guatemalan woman has been in this sprawling border town for 15 days since she was deported back to Mexico, after being apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande with her 4-year-old son on a raft.

"I don't know anything about that," she said of the changes announced by the U.S. government. "I just want to go to the U.S. to find a better life for my kids. The father of my children threatened to kill me, so I had to leave."

She stood in front of dozens of tents set up as makeshift homes on the concrete ground of a Tijuana shelter. Young children played with toy cars, baby dolls and other trinkets in the corners, while their parents looked on. As Garcia spoke, her son, Fabian, tugged at her leg. "Mama!" he whined, pleading for attention.

Once she was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol in Texas, Garcia was given a sheet to sign in English, she said. She didn't understand what it was, but she later found out that she had filed an asylum claim. Now, she's awaiting an August court date.

Garcia left three other children at home under the care of her mother. She hopes that she will be able to cross into the United States and send money home to them. But she doesn't want to stay in Mexico. "It's very dangerous here, and there is no work."


Under the new rule, which is set to take effect Tuesday, migrants arriving at U.S. territory on the southwest border would be deemed ineligible to apply for asylum if they had failed to file for safe haven in another country en route to the United States. That would practically overturn long-established U.S. asylum law, which provides a legal right for anyone arriving at the border to claim protection by making a case that returning home would subject them to torture, persecution or worse.

Thousands of migrants, mostly Central Americans such as Garcia but also large numbers of people from Cuba, Haiti, Congo, Cameroon, Eritrea and elsewhere -- have been waiting in Tijuana to enter U.S. territory and file asylum claims. Some have been in line for months. But the new rule would jeopardize their already slim chances of gaining refuge in the United States.

Numerous immigrant rights groups and elected officials have denounced the move. Advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, vowed to challenge the new rule, but it was unclear if any court action would block it from taking effect on Tuesday as scheduled.

A number of migrants interviewed in Tijuana on Monday said they didn't see any logic in applying for asylum in Mexico, Guatemala or any of the other countries they had traveled through before arriving at the border. Some suggested that they would rather entrust their fate to U.S. Border Patrol agents than to the drug-running criminal gangs and other predators that have ravaged large swaths of Central America, causing many people to leave their homelands and head north.


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