NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico (AP) — A Trump administration program forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico has evolved into a sweeping rejection of all forms of migrants, with both countries quietly working to keep people out of the U.S. despite threats to the migrants’ safety.
The results serve the goals of both governments, which have targeted unauthorized migration at the behest of President Donald Trump, who threatened Mexico with potentially crippling tariffs earlier this year to force action.
Some people sent to wait in the Mexican border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros said they never requested asylum, including Wilfredo Alvarez, a laborer from Honduras. He crossed the Rio Grande without permission to look for work to support his seven children and was unexpectedly put into the program. He was sent back to Mexico with a future court date.
“We thought that if they caught us, they would deport us to our country, but it was not that way,” Alvarez said. “They threw us away here to Mexico, but we are not from here and it’s very difficult.”
Others said they were never asked if they feared persecution in Mexico, despite U.S. government rules that say migrants should not be sent there if they face that risk.
U.S. border agents give each returned migrant a date for an immigration court hearing at tents set up near the border. But the Mexican government has bused hundreds of migrants to cities around 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, ostensibly for their safety. And there’s no promise that Mexico will bring migrants back.
Instead, Mexico is offering to return many Central Americans to the Guatemala border, and others are choosing to leave at their own expense.
A priest running a shelter in Nuevo Laredo called the process a form of “undercover deportation.”
“It’s a way to send them to a country that’s not theirs and save money,” Aaron Mendez said. “And Mexico has not said one word.”
Two weeks after speaking to The Associated Press, Mendez was kidnapped by armed men who entered the shelter. He is still missing.
The effort to keep migrants in Mexico is officially called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” but it’s better known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. Announced as a plan to crack down on asylum claims, it has been in effect since January and was expanded in July to the eastern end of the U.S.-Mexico border.