'Metering' Policy At The Southern Border Faces Renewed Scrutiny An update on the Trump administration's use of "metering," or making asylum seekers wait weeks before being allowed to cross into the U.S. Several migrants have died recently trying to cross illegally.

'Metering' Policy At The Southern Border Faces Renewed Scrutiny

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Hundreds of migrants have died crossing the border illegally this year, including a Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned last week. A picture of their bodies on the banks of the Rio Grande went viral.

So why do so many migrants take the risk? Some say they are frustrated by how long it takes to cross at legal ports of entry, as the U.S. limits how many can get in at any one time. Houston Public Media's Elizabeth Trovall reports.

ELIZABETH TROVALL, BYLINE: Migrant children greet Mike Benavides with hugs whenever he crosses the bridge into Matamoros, Mexico. He runs a nonprofit in Brownsville and brings food over every day.

MIKE BENAVIDES: We try to keep these people as comfortable as we can, but you can see the conditions. There's nothing comfortable about spending your day sitting on a concrete sidewalk.

TROVALL: Large crowds of migrants gather daily in a plaza next to the bridge. Xiamara is one of them. She says she fled her home country of Honduras after receiving death threats from gangs when she ran for office. She's spent the last two months here.

XIAMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: Xiamara says waiting here isn't easy. She asked us not to use her last name because she doesn't want to hurt her family's chance of getting asylum in the U.S. She says money is tight, and her daughters are sick. One has had two epileptic seizures since they've been here.

XIAMARA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: This waiting game is the new normal for asylum-seekers arriving at ports of entry like this. It's called metering. It was used sparingly under Obama but has become common practice under the Trump administration.

It works like this. Instead of being allowed to cross into the U.S., asylum-seekers now have to wait in Mexico. In Matamoros, Mexican immigration officials keep a waitlist. When U.S. officials give the go-ahead, Mexican officials call out the next name. Hundreds of names are on that list. But each week, only about seven are called. Wait times stretch for two months or longer. Many are terrified in this city plagued by homicides and kidnappings.

NORA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: Nora, a Honduran woman who asked that her full name not be used, says she's terrified all the time. The other day, she says, she thought she would die of fear. She prays to God to calm her nerves so she doesn't make a rash decision.

NORA: (Speaking Spanish).

TROVALL: "Sometimes," she says, "you make mistakes because you're desperate just like the Salvadoran father and daughter who died in the river."

While migrants here lament the long wait times, folks in Washington are also weighing in. Here's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli on CNN.


KEN CUCCINELLI: That father didn't want to wait to go through the asylum process in the legal fashion so decided to cross the river and not only died, but his daughter died tragically, as well.

TROVALL: Others blame metering. Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro says that's why the Salvadoran family took the risk.


JULIAN CASTRO: So they got frustrated, and they tried to cross the river, and they died because of that.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Hallelujah, hallelujah...

TROVALL: La Lomita Chapel sits on the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, where the bodies of the father and daughter were found last week along with the bodies of a young woman and three small children. Father Roy Snipes and parishioners prayed they rest in peace in an intimate sunrise mass.

ROY SNIPES: That's our prayers. We remember these people - young people who were born into eternal life right here - right here on the Rio Grande.

TROVALL: After mass, they made their way to release six wreaths into the Rio Grande. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Trovall.

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