Armed kidnappers are targeting asylum-seekers forced to wait in Mexico under inhumane Trump policy

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Yolanda, a migrant from El Salvador, rests atop her bunk inside of Iglesia Metodista "El Buen Pastor," after being released from US custody on June 14, 2019 in Ciudad Juarez. She went to her first asylum court hearing under the Migrant Protection Protocols program and was given given an interview via telephone to determine whether her fear to remain in Mexico was credible, it was denied and sent back to Juarez to prepare an asylum application, which must be completed only in English. - AFP presents a photo essay of 36 images by photographer Paul Ratje on the ordeal of Yolanda - who asked that we not use her last name - one of thousands of would-be migrants from Central American fleeing violence and seeking asylum in the United States who were told to wait for their court hearing in Mexico. .Yolanda came from El Salvador a little bit less than five months ago with her year-old grandson and teenage daughter and they were separated when they crossed the border from Mexico to the US. She now faces the opaque and dysfunctional US immigration system, with a kaleidoscope of legal requirements that even lawyers find hard to navigate, seeking asylum. There are almost 19,000 asylum seekers in Mexican border cities waiting for a US court hearing, according to research based on US and Mexican official figures. At least 5,000 of them are in Ciudad Juarez, El Paso's Mexican sister city. (Photo by Paul Ratje / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration continues to wave away the consequences of forcing asylum-seekers to wait out their cases in dangerous regions of Mexico, where assaults, murders, and kidnappings are terrifyingly common. The latter is only getting worse—and it’s being aided by the U.S.’ inhumane and illegal policy. The Los Angeles Times reports that armed kidnappers have targeted Mexican shelters where families are waiting out their cases, “looking for Cuban migrants, favored targets because relatives in the United States are known to pay exorbitant ransoms to free abducted loved ones.”

They tried this on Aug. 3 at the Casa del Migrante Amar shelter in “cartel-dominated” Nuevo Laredo, but were met with resistance by Rev. Aarón Méndez, the pastor who runs the location. The Deseret News reports that Méndez even offered himself instead. What is confirmed is that the armed men took him, and he’s been missing for over a month now. “The pastor entered the twilight world of Mexico’s ‘disappeared’— officially 37,000 and growing, with Tamaulipas state leading Mexico in the grisly statistic,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

That’s nearly the same number of asylum-seekers and families that have been sent to Mexico under the “Remain in Mexico” policy, nearly 38,000 as of the end of August. Nearly 150 asylum-seekers have become victims of violence after being sent back, Human Rights First said in a report, and the Trump administration sent them back knowing the dangers full well: “The State Department gives Tamaulipas a level 4 ‘do not travel’ warning—the same as Syria.”

One asylum-seeker from El Salvador, Misael Palacio, told the Deseret News that he has a court date scheduled for Oct. 23—but he’s already come dangerously close to not making it. “The day after he was released back into Nuevo Laredo from the United States under the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, he and his kids were nearly kidnapped by four men who tried to force them into a vehicle. Palacio escaped by holding onto his kids and running into oncoming traffic, he said.”

The official name of the “Remain in Mexico” policy is “Migrant Protection Protocols,” but it’s anything but that. “Under the Remain in Mexico policy, the United States has turned its back on its domestic and international legal obligations by forcing men, women, and children to await resolution of their U.S. asylum cases in parts of Mexico plagued by violence,” two dozen Democratic senators wrote in a letter calling for an end to the policy. “It is imperative that the United States end this reckless course of action and reaffirm its commitment to the principles of due process on which this country was founded.”