Ninth Circuit Court Issues Ruling Against “Remain in Mexico” Policy; Recorded Abuses of Asylum-Seekers in Mexico Top 1,000 Cases

A year after “remain in Mexico” policy began, HRF finds more than 1,000 reports of kidnappings, assaults and rape of asylum-seekers

Washington, D.C. – Today, a three-judge panel blocked the Trump administration’s policy of returning asylum-seekers to Mexico to wait for their asylum hearings. Human Rights First represented the asylum claims of one of the plaintiffs in today’s case, who exposed the farce of this policy by becoming the first person under the Migrant Protection Protocols to win asylum. Human Rights First welcomes this ruling as the organization releases its new count of horrific harms suffered by asylum-seekers subjected to the Trump administration’s return policy.

Since the policy was enacted Human Rights First has maintained a database tracking assaults, rape, kidnapping, torture and extortion based on its own direct research as well as the reports of other human rights researchers, legal monitors, journalists and others who have documented these brutal attacks.  Human Rights First has now collected more than 1,000 public reports of kidnappings, torture, rape and assaults against asylum seekers. This tally of attacks on returnees includes at least 228 publicly reported cases of kidnapping or attempted kidnapping of children returned to Mexico.

“We welcome this ruling by the circuit court and stress that asylum-seekers have suffered very grave harms under this policy,” said Kennji Kizuka, senior researcher and policy analyst for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “We have now collected more than 1,000 reports of horrific violence inflicted on those who came to the United States seeking safety. And these are just the publicly reported accounts  – many incidents of violence are never reported.”

Human Rights First submitted a “friend of the court” brief last summer arguing that the asylum law was meant to establish basic safeguards to prevent the return of refugees to danger.

On Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, in testimony before Congress, claimed he didn’t have specific information on violence suffered by asylum seekers subjected to the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols.

Wolf also claimed that asylum-seekers have access to legal representation even though 95% of asylum-seekers returned to Mexico don’t have a lawyer. Human Rights First and 22 other organizations struggling to assist these asylum seekers have detailed – in a letter sent to Acting Secretary Wolf on Jan 28, 2019 – the many safety, logistical and other barriers to representing these asylum seekers in Mexico.

The asylum-seekers kidnapped and attacked after being placed into the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy include men, women and children are seeking asylum from Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela and other countries. The number of attacks on asylum-seekers and migrants returned to Mexico is certainly far above 1,000, as the vast majority of those returned have not been interviewed by researchers or journalists.

“Trump administration officials are knowingly sending people who have asked for safety to be kidnapped, tortured and assaulted,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Instead of feigning ignorance and evading responsibility, U.S. officials should immediately end this fiasco and apply the asylum laws that Congress enacted so that these people can seek protection and safety in the United States. There is no doubt that asylum-seekers are suffering irreparable harm under this illegal policy. We welcome the court’s ruling and urge a swift end to this policy.”

The most recent reports of abuse against migrants returned to Mexico include the following:

  • A Salvadoran asylum-seeker returned by DHS to Mexico through the Laredo port of entry reported, that after her initial MPP court hearing, her 17-year-old son was kidnapped in Mexico and remains missing. The immigration judge ordered the boy deported in absentia. Nuevo Laredo, which is across the border in Mexico has been listed by the U.S. Department of State as a Level 4 threat risk for Americans —the same warning as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, North Korea, and Yemen.
  • Ten- and 16-year-old girls were kidnapped with their mother, an asylum-seeker from Honduras, and the older girl and mother were raped after DHS returned them to Mexico through Nuevo Laredo. Despite this brutal assault, DHS returned the family again to Mexico finding the family’s fear of Mexico was not sufficient to remove them from MPP. After the failed screening interview, the 16-year-old girl was physically assaulted in Monterrey where the family had relocated in an attempt to find a safer place to wait for their continued MPP hearings.
  • A Cuban man, who was returned by DHS to Ciudad Juarez under MPP, was assaulted and electrocuted by Mexican police in Juarez in November 2019.
  • A Guatemalan woman, who was returned by DHS to Ciudad Juarez, was attacked with acid there last year. The woman and her attorney presented medical documentation of her evident injuries, but DHS has nonetheless returned her to Mexico multiple times.

If you are interested in learning more about Human Rights First’s efforts to document violence against migrants in the year since MPP was implemented, please visit – a collaborative website launched by Human Rights First, the Washington Office on Latin America, Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración, Women’s Refugee Commission, the Latin American Working Group, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International, Immigration Equality, Human Rights Watch, HIAS, and Immigrant Defenders Law Center.


Published on February 28, 2020


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