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Migrants Sent Back To Mexico Are In Dangerous Situations, Rep. Escobar Says


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. In Washington, I'm Steve Inskeep.


I'm Rachel Martin.


And I'm Noel King reporting from El Paso, Texas. All this week, we are here talking to people who are affected by the Trump administration's implementation of the Remain in Mexico policy. Now, under that policy, many people who want asylum in the U.S. are sent to Mexico to wait for their court dates. Thousands of people have been sent to Mexico to await their day in immigration court.

This week, I walked across the border from El Paso into the city of Ciudad Juarez. And in that city, I found about two dozen people living in the basement of a hotel. The conditions were filthy. It was hard to breathe. One woman was there with her 12-year-old son. She told me her court date is in August.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) Between now and then is a month's time. We have to keep paying to eat and to sleep. The city is dangerous. And if I go in a month and get sent back and they give me my next appointment for a month out, what will I do then? What's going to happen to my son? What are we going to eat?

KING: It is these kind of stories that worry Congresswoman Veronica Escobar. She's a Democrat. She represents the city of El Paso. She had a chance to visit Juarez recently and talk to people who were impacted by this policy.

VERONICA ESCOBAR: Many of them end up either on the streets or looking for churches to house them. We had a case recently of a woman who was sent back - a 20-year-old woman who was sent back via MPP to Mexico after having waited in line, stayed in detention, sent back to Mexico. She was kidnapped and brutally gang raped. I mean, it's just - they are in an absolutely desperate and dangerous situation.

KING: You had a chance to visit a shelter in Juarez this past week. What did it look like there? What conditions did you see, and what did people tell you?

ESCOBAR: It was very spartan - you know, very - mattresses on the floor, very hot. But every migrant that I spoke to - every asylum-seeker that I spoke to expressed deep gratitude for the ability to stay in that shelter. They are feeling very hopeless, very down, very depressed.

KING: You've introduced legislation to defund the Remain in Mexico policy. I want to understand what that means. Are you calling for a ban on this policy? What would you like your legislation to do?

ESCOBAR: The purpose of my legislation is to ensure that no federal dollars go toward enforcing what I consider an unconstitutional policy by the administration because it exacerbates the misery of people who are legally seeking asylum.

KING: If Remain in Mexico were to end and all of these people were to be waiting in the United States, isn't that just as much a problem? What's the solution to that problem?

ESCOBAR: I don't see that as a problem for a couple of reasons. I think, No. 1, one thing for us to realize is that almost every one of these family members, individuals, have a sponsor in the United States - a spouse, child, a parent.

KING: How do we know it's most people? That's something - I had not heard that before, and I'm just wondering, where does - most is not a number. But how do you know that information?

ESCOBAR: Yeah. So this is anecdotal from having sat with families since late last summer, whether those families are in detention, whether those families are in shelters in Juarez, whether those families are recently released - and this is not true for everyone. I have met some single adult males who I've spoken to who, for them, this is their only shot. But for families, I have yet to meet a family - after speaking to families, I have yet to meet a family member who doesn't have - or an individual, an asylum-seeker, who doesn't have a family member here.

KING: One thing that the administration says almost constantly is that a lot of these people don't show up for their day in court.

ESCOBAR: And we know that that's untrue. The vast majority of these individuals want to be in America legally, and their only shot at doing that is their court hearing. Now, there are some reasons why some folks don't show up. They don't get their notification. Remain in Mexico makes that even - it exacerbates that problem because it's much harder for individuals to have access to legal counsel. Or if they're lucky enough to have a lawyer, it makes it very difficult for them to remain in contact with their lawyer. It really is a terrible, terrible policy.

And the intention of the policy is to make it more difficult for people to get into the process, to receive due process. It's a way to essentially create a sense of hopelessness within this population so that they ultimately go back to the countries where they came from, countries that they were fleeing for a reason.

KING: Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, thank you so much for joining us.

ESCOBAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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