The Trump administration plans to soon force Brazilian asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico for the duration of their immigration cases, an expansion of a controversial policy that has been in place for more than a year, according to two sources with knowledge of the move.
The Brazilian nationals would join the more than 55,000 non-Mexican individuals who have been forced to wait in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols, which previously focused primarily on those who spoke Spanish. The Trump administration has repeatedly cited the program as an achievement that has helped reduce the number of border crossings.
The move to place Brazilians into the program is expected to begin in the El Paso region, according to the sources. Heather Swift, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said officials “have nothing to announce at this time.”
“DHS is always looking at ways to expand and strengthen the program to include new locations, populations, and procedures in order to further enhance protections for migrants and ensure safe and lawful migration," Swift added.
Advocates and attorneys have detailed numerous problems with its implementation and the risks asylum-seekers face in Mexico. The advocacy group Human Rights First detailed this week how it has found more than 800 publicly reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, murder, and other violent attacks against asylum-seekers and immigrants returned to Mexico under MPP.
The latest move comes after multiple comments by Trump administration officials on the increase of Brazilian people at the southern border.
“We’re seeing, again, individuals from extraterritorial countries, extra-continental, come in from Brazil, Haiti, Africans,” Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection, told reporters in December. Morgan has hinted previously at expanding the policy to include those from Brazil as well. Reuters first reported the administration was considering the move.
Multiple asylum officers said the decision was unnecessary and a wrong choice for many reasons.
"I'd say it's discouraging we are placing non-Spanish speakers in a legally, economically, and physically challenging environment without support mechanisms or effective guidance," said one officer.
Another officer said that "casting vulnerable people adrift in Mexico is senseless and cruel, but even more so for those who don't speak Spanish, including Brazilians and non-Spanish-speaking Central Americans."
Advocates also said the move to expand the policy to Brazilian asylum-seekers was concerning.
“It is beyond nonsensical to force people who don’t speak Spanish to live in Mexico for an unknown period while they seek asylum,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council. “Staying safe in Mexico is already difficult for people in MPP, and Brazilian asylum-seekers will likely be at a heightened risk because they will be unable to access the limited services available to them due to language barriers. As a result, this decision will likely spur rejoicing in criminal cartels across the border.”
He noted that the move would also place a burden on immigration courts, which have struggled to financially support interpreters throughout the country’s courtrooms.
Late last year, BuzzFeed News obtained a draft report from a team of senior Department of Homeland Security officials who examined the policy and found that US border officials apparently pressured USCIS officials to deny immigrants entry into the US.
The “Red Team” recommendations call on agencies within DHS, including CBP, to provide immigration court hearing notices in multiple languages, improve language access for immigrants and ensure that they understand the “questions asked and can make informed decisions,” standardize procedures for screening vulnerable populations like children and people with disabilities, and clarify the role of CBP officers in the process.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on a lawsuit challenging the policy soon.