How the Migrant Protection Protocols Policy Compounds Persecution Against LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers
Guest Blog Post by Shaine Stuhlmuller, 2020 AsylumConnect Summer Intern
What Is the Migrant Protection Protocols Program?
A year and a half after the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy was announced by the Trump administration, the policy otherwise known as “Remain in Mexico” continues to inflict unnecessary danger upon asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries. MPP has sent over 65,000 asylum seekers from the U.S. to Mexico to wait for their cases to be processed in U.S. immigration court, many of whom must wait over a year due to a swelling court backlog. Intended as a ploy to block immigrants and asylum seekers from entering the United States, MPP has succeeded in creating barriers to legal representation and transparency for asylum seekers.
Under the new rules, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) no longer asks immigrants if they fear persecution in their home country. Instead, asylum seekers must know to emphasize the fact on their own, something that they may not think to offer without being prompted. However, nearly 2 out of 3 respondents who expressed fear of persecution in Mexico to a CBP officer were returned to Mexico anyway.
The Reality for LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers Waiting in Mexico
Despite the Trump administration’s claim that MPP was created to keep asylum seekers safe, MPP has sent thousands of asylum seekers to areas in Mexico as dangerous as Syria, North Korea, and Yemen, according to the U.S. State Department. At least 1,114 cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, and assault against asylum seekers returned to Mexico have been reported. And with shelters filled past capacity, thousands of asylum seekers in MPP are forced to sleep in parks and under bridges, even amid sweltering temperatures and hurricanes.
Subject to violence and sexual assault at higher rates than other asylum seekers, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers continue to face discrimination in Mexico from authorities, other immigrants, and even shelter workers. Resources specific to the needs of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are not only sparse and underfunded, but can sometimes be the target of homophobic and transphobic attacks. In 2018, The Caritas Tijuana shelter, which housed LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, was robbed and later lit on fire after the door was barred shut.
By returning LGBTQ+ asylum seekers to Mexico, MPP subjects them to the same discrimination they are fleeing. Authorities in Latin America often fail to protect members of LGBTQ+ communities, sometimes even contributing to the violence and harassment themselves. A United Nations study found that 88 percent of Central American LGBTQ+ asylum seekers were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in their home countries, and two-thirds reported suffering similar attacks in Mexico.
The catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse for asylum seekers waiting in Mexico. Due to emergency coronavirus restrictions, MPP hearings have been pushed back until as late as April 2021. The Trump administration also introduced a rule in July to automatically block asylum seekers from countries with disease outbreaks, following a June proposal that would heavily restrict asylum based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Fortunately, the new obstacles presented by MPP have prompted innovation in the legal sector to assist asylum seekers stuck in Mexico. One such project, called Puentes Libres, launched a pilot program offering remote legal help to asylum seekers in Ciudad Juárez. The chance of being granted asylum is five times higher for those with legal representation. However, the team spearheading Puentes Libres reports that just 2 percent of asylum seekers in MPP sent back to Ciudad Juárez have access to attorneys.
In addition to being a dangerous mechanism to deter asylum seekers, the Migrant Protection Protocols policy compounds discrimination against acutely vulnerable LGBTQ+ people seeking refuge. But by connecting them with resources like Puentes Libres, AsylumConnect’s upcoming native bilingual (English and Spanish) Mexico Catalog will help LGBTQ+ asylum seekers survive in Mexico as they wait for their cases to be adjudicated in the U.S. Through advocacy and assistance, organizations like AsylumConnect remain vital in ensuring that the United States offers an accessible and welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people to live free from persecution.