A Sordid Scheme: The Trump Administration’s Illegal Return of Asylum Seekers to Mexico

On January 29, 2019, the Trump Administration began implementing its perversely dubbed “Migration Protection Protocols.” In reality, this policy is about denying—not providing—protection to refugees, and is not a “protocol,” but an attempt to circumvent the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the laws passed by Congress. The latest in a series of efforts to ban, block, and deter refugees from seeking asylum in the United States, this “Remain in Mexico” scheme violates U.S. and international law, returns asylum seekers to danger in Mexico, creates disorder at the border, and makes a mockery of American due process and legal counsel laws.

This report is based on Human Rights First’s field observations, legal analysis, meetings with U.S. and Mexican government officials and NGOs, interviews and communications with attorneys, legal organizations, and asylum seekers, as well as review of documents provided by the U.S. and Mexican governments to asylum seekers stranded in Mexico. Human Rights First’s legal teams conducted research at the U.S.-Mexico border in November and December 2018, and again in January and early February 2019. Our teams were in Tijuana both before and as the Trump Administration began returning asylum seekers to Mexico. Researchers also visited the United States-Mexico border in late February and early March 2019, visiting ports of entry at Laredo, Eagle Pass and Del Rio, Texas and the Mexican cities of Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña.

Human Rights First’s principal findings include:

  • The Remain in Mexico plan violates asylum provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as well as U.S. treaty obligations to protect refugees.
  • At least 150 asylum seekers had been returned to Mexico through February 2019. The people returned so far had sought asylum from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and include an LGBTQ asylum seeker, an individual with a serious medical condition, and families with at least 13 children (three under the age of five).
  • Implementing Remain in Mexico has not increased “efficiency” but created disorder and will likely encourage attempts to cross the border between ports of entry as have other disruptive and illegal efforts to block or reduce asylum requests at ports of entry.
  • Remain in Mexico makes a mockery of legal representation and due process rights of asylum seekers, undermines their ability to prepare or even file an application for asylum, and ignores the protection screening safeguards created by Congress, instead inventing a farcical “procedure” to screen asylum seekers for fear of return to Mexico.
  • The United States has returned asylum seekers to acute dangers in Mexico and to potential deportation to the countries where they fear persecution. According to the administration, Remain in Mexico will expand to return more asylum seekers, including families, to Mexico—including to some of the most dangerous Mexican states on the U.S.-Mexico border, where murders and kidnappings of asylum seekers have occurred.
  • Mexico has participated in the implementation of this policy. While Mexico insists it has no “agreement” with the United States, Mexican immigration officers are helping American officers block ports of entry and return asylum seekers to Mexico.

Human Rights First continues to urge the Trump Administration to:

  • Cease all efforts that violate U.S. asylum and immigration law and U.S. Refugee Protocol obligations including the return of asylum seekers and the orchestrated restrictions on asylum processing at ports of entry.
  • Direct U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to deploy more officers to U.S. ports of entry to restore timely and orderly asylum processing.


  • Eleanor Acer
  • Kennji Kizuka

Published on February 13, 2019


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