Orders from Above

Massive Human Rights Abuses Under Trump Administration Return to Mexico Policy

In September 2019, the Trump Administration’s policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico, which it farcically refers to as the “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), entered a new phase. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded this flawed program, sending men, women and children from Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and other countries to wait in the notoriously dangerous Mexican border state of Tamaulipas and opened secretive tent courts in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, for MPP hearings.

This policy delivers children, their families, and other asylum seekers to areas so plagued by violence that the U.S. State Department has designated the state of Tamaulipas a Level 4 threat risk—the same warning as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, North Korea, and Yemen. Yet the administration cynically touts this dangerous and illegal policy as an “effective” alternative to family separation and family detention that brings “integrity” to the immigration system – asserting that it keeps “families together and not in custody.” But the reality is that the Trump Administration has refused to implement humane, effective, and fiscally prudent strategies to manage refugee arrivals in ways that uphold U.S. law and treaty commitments.

MPP works in tandem with other illegal administration policies (including turn-backs, the third-country transit asylum ban, which went into full effect in September, and, once implemented, asylum-seeker transfer agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) to ban, block, and terrify refugees from seeking protection in the United States. The forced return policy violates legal prohibitions in U.S. law and international obligations on returning people seeking U.S. protection to persecution and torture, and blatantly flouts the asylum laws and due process protections Congress adopted for refugees seeking protection at the border.

Since the start of MPP in January, DHS has forced nearly 50,000 asylum seekers and migrants to wait in danger in Mexico. In addition, some 26,000 are stranded in Mexico due to metering—the illegal policy of turning back asylum applicants at ports of entry.

This report is based on interviews with asylum seekers stranded in Mexico, attorneys, humanitarian volunteers, and Mexican government officials; continuing field research, including in Matamoros, Mexico; observation of MPP immigration court hearings; and reports from human rights organizations, legal monitors, and the media. Human Rights First observed immigration court proceedings at the Brownsville tent court remotely from the Harlingen immigration court because U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) denied Human Rights First’s request for access to the facility. This report is an update to our March 2019 and August 2019 reports.



  • Eleanor Acer
  • Kennji Kizuka

Published on October 1, 2019


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