In Juárez, 'Remain In Mexico' Policy Casts Asylum-Seekers Back Into Uncertainty For some migrants in Juárez, Mexico, waiting for their asylum claims to be processed means staying in a hot, crowded hotel basement and embarking on a process marked by confusion and randomness.
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In Juárez, 'Remain In Mexico' Policy Casts Asylum-Seekers Back Into Uncertainty

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In Juárez, 'Remain In Mexico' Policy Casts Asylum-Seekers Back Into Uncertainty

In Juárez, 'Remain In Mexico' Policy Casts Asylum-Seekers Back Into Uncertainty

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NOEL KING, HOST:

I'm reporting from the border this week on a Trump administration policy that started earlier this year. It's called Migrant Protection Protocols or Remain in Mexico. Here's what it means. If you cross the border into the United States seeking asylum, you have to wait to get a hearing in court. Now, in the past, you could wait in the United States. Under this new policy, people are being told they have to wait in Mexico instead. Just across the border from El Paso is the city of Juarez, and this is where many people are being sent.

Our story in Juarez starts with a tip. Our reporting team was wandering around downtown.

So we're looking around to see if anyone in this area is somebody who has come back across the border from the United States.

We know more than 7,000 migrants have been sent to Juarez under this Remain in Mexico policy. We assumed it would be easy to find and talk to them, but it wasn't. It was mid-afternoon. The sun was high, and it gets really hot in Juarez. And then finally after about an hour, we met a woman in the plaza downtown, and she told us she'd heard about a hotel where migrants are staying. It's a nondescript building not far from where we were. So we walked in, and a woman named Maribel showed us the way.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: (Speaking Spanish) Where are you taking us?

MARIBEL: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: We're going downstairs, she said?

URIBE: We're going down to the basement where other migrants are hanging out at this hotel.

KING: That voice you hear translating is Monica Ortiz Uribe. She's a journalist based in El Paso. She's been working with us. She and Maribel brought us down into the basement.

So I just want to take a look around. There is one light strip on the ceiling. This is basically a bare floor with one, two - maybe between 15 and 20 mattresses. There's no air in here. It is really, really sticky.

There were about two dozen people down there. One of them, a woman named Griselida, was really eager to tell us where she'd come from.

Honduras?

GRISELIDA: Honduras.

KING: Oh, with your son.

We are not using Griselida's last name or anyone else's because these are people who are in the middle of immigration proceedings. Griselida is 44. Her son, Julio, is 12. And here's what the Remain in Mexico policy looks like for them, the people who are living it. A couple days ago, she crossed into the United States seeking asylum.

GRISELIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: U.S. immigration officials almost immediately sent her and her son back to Mexico. They told them they could find housing in a shelter in Juarez that everybody knows. But then they were turned over to Mexican immigration officials who told them, no, that shelter is full. You guys are on your own. She and Julio were among this group of about 10 people who were all released into the city at the same time. They wandered around together until they found this hotel. It costs about $4 a night for her and Julio to share a twin mattress on the floor.

GRISELIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: You have heard stories like Griselida's before. A gang in Honduras was after her. They wanted to recruit her son, Julio. The gang chased them through Honduras for two years, and after that, she decided finally to just flee to the United States.

Can we get a sense of why a gang would want a 10-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 12-year-old boy? What did they want him to do?

GRISELIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: She tells us the gang wanted Julio because it's easy to train young boys to kill people. The brains of young people, she says, are easy to dominate. Now, a bunch of other women had gathered around to listen. And at this point, they all started nodding because they know this story, too. Julio is almost as tall as his mom. He has her sad, dark eyes, and he's just disappointed. He's a kid, and he thought they'd get in.

JULIO: (Through interpreter) We had heard that if you came with your family or brought a small child, you could come in, so that made me hopeful. But then when we arrived, they said no more. They didn't even ask us anything. They just sent us back. They didn't tell us anything. I don't know what to do. I'm here with my mom.

KING: While she was in the U.S., Griselida was given something. It's in a big, clear, plastic bag, and I asked to see what was inside.

OK. So we're in a very dark room, which makes it hard to see - oh - but we have a cellphone here with a light. OK. So let me just take a look at what we have here.

There are two sets of papers - one for her, one for her Julio.

You arrived in the United States at or near El Paso, Texas - El Paso is circled with a pen - on or about July 6, 2019. You were not then admitted or paroled after inspection by an immigration officer. So this is a list of the things they have done wrong.

The papers are written in English, and Griselida has signed them. The problem is she can't read or write English or Spanish.

GRISELIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: But she says immigration authorities demanded she sign the form. There is also another paper.

This is a form titled "Migrant Protection Protocols." This is the form that tells her you have to go back to Mexico.

There's a court date on it.

August 20, 2019.

It's right there on the form. That's the day that they will get their hearing in court. So for the moment, that's what she's holding on to - August 20, 2019. But when she says that date, it kind of kicks up a conversation in the basement.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: One woman says, look; I've been here a month. She just got here last night. Why is her court date before mine? This kind of confusion is endemic. How do the court dates work? How do you get to the court in the U.S.? How do you get a lawyer? No one knows anything. There's also a young family from Guatemala staying in the basement. Mom is Glendi. Dad is Jilme. They have a 3-year-old daughter who clearly can't understand how worried her parents are.

GLENDI: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: They say the reason they are here is that little girl. She's energetic. She's having fun. She's running around the basement. So many people told us they want a better life for their kids. But her parents say they want to give her the best life. They've seen other people leave this hotel basement and go back to their home countries. But they are determined to stay and wait for their date in court.

JILME: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: October 28. At one point, Griselida drifted back over to us. And to us, she made her case for asylum. She says, I have proof that these gangs would have hurt my son. And then she asks, do we know how she can find a lawyer?

GRISELIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: For now, she says, she has no plan. She's leaving the planning to God. It was really hot down in that basement. It was getting hard to breathe, and we were warned to leave Juarez before nightfall. So we left them there in the dark. We headed upstairs into the sunlight, and we walked back across the border.

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