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Number Of Mexicans Apprehended At The Border Is Up, U.S. Officials Say


The number of Central Americans stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped dramatically in the past few months, but officials say the number of Mexicans apprehended is rising. Many of them are seeking asylum from violence. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, they say U.S. officials are speeding through their claims and deporting them in record time.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: In Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, a young couple from Michoacan are contemplating their next move. They say U.S. officials rejected their asylum claim and deported them back to this border city. NPR is not identifying the couple because they fear retribution from members of a drug cartel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The husband says it's cruel that they were returned to Mexico. "Our lives are left hanging here," he says. "We can't go back home." Relatives have told him the cartel is still on the lookout. The couple says their problems began last October when they witnessed the brutal kidnapping of a neighbor. The neighbor was later found dead, his body mutilated. Not only did the kidnappers warn the two to keep their mouths shut, they were also paid a visit by armed masked men driving a local police vehicle. NPR was not able to independently confirm their story.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The police, instead of helping us and protecting us, they just made everything worse," says the husband.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They told us that we should just leave or stay and face the consequences," says the wife. They ran. At the international border station in El Paso, Texas, they asked for asylum and says they were detained for nearly two weeks. They say they were sent back so fast they weren't given a chance to prove their case or call a lawyer. This sped-up asylum process is part of a new pilot program recently launched in El Paso by the Trump administration. Officials say the goal is to streamline asylum claims so migrants get their decisions within 10 days instead of a process that can take up to years.

Linda Corchado with the migrant advocacy group Las Americas in El Paso says the program denies migrants the right to phone calls and to lawyers.

LINDA CORCHADO: It's really just about expediting the removal of what this administration believes is fraudulent claims to asylum. And the most vulnerable people pay the price for it.

KAHN: The ACLU of Texas is suing the Trump administration over the policy. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for today. In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it cannot comment on matters under litigation. Advocates for migrants say Mexico's soaring violence is driving the surge of asylum-seekers to the U.S. Last year, more than 35,000 people were murdered in Mexico. Lists of asylum-seekers waiting to present their cases at U.S. border stations are no longer filled with Central Americans but with Mexicans.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Outside a crowded shelter in Ciudad Juarez, migrants sing and pray to God. Alberto from the northern state of Sonora says he's been waiting here for months. He says officials looked at his claim but sent him back to Mexico to wait for another court date in late March. NPR is not using his full name, as he fears retribution. He says drug traffickers killed his father and said they would do the same to him if he didn't let them store their marijuana and poppy plants on his large cattle ranch.

ALBERTO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I thought for sure I would be able to stay and be safe in the U.S.," says Alberto. He says he doesn't understand why he was sent back to wait in the country he was fleeing from.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Ciudad Juarez.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAODAIL'S "FAIRWEATHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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