A scathing report published Wednesday by a nonprofit human rights organization details the dangers and horrors faced by people seeking asylum in the two months since the Biden administration lifted Title 42.
The report, published by Human Rights First, was based on attorney and researcher visits to the southern border. It included interviews with more than 300 migrants and asylum-seekers in Mexican cities such as Reynosa and Matamoros, where thousands of people are camped out in large makeshift encampments amid a persistent and brutal summer heat wave.
Earlier this week, a 15-year-old girl from Guatemala died in the custody of the U.S. refugee agency. It was the fourth death of a migrant child in federal custody this year.
Many of these concerns have been raised by migrants and advocates since the pandemic-era border restriction ended earlier this year, but the report is the first to put together a comprehensive look at the impact on the people who are crossing the border and seeking asylum.
Researchers found that while migrants wait for appointments via the Customs and Border Protection’s CBP One app, which is used to set up appointments at the border as they seek entry into the United States, many are exposed to violent crime, assault and even torture.
“While Biden administration officials have inaccurately touted it as ‘working,’ the grim reality is that the asylum ban is a refugee protection, humanitarian, and legal travesty,” researchers wrote in the report. “The Biden asylum ban has stranded vulnerable people in places where they are targets of kidnapping and violent assaults, rigged the credible fear process against people seeking asylum, and deported many without meaningful access to counsel and despite potential eligibility for asylum under U.S. law.”
In one instance detailed in the report, a Honduran woman was raped while waiting for a CBP One appointment and later turned away from a port of entry by Mexican officers despite the risk to her life. In another, an elderly woman from Colombia was physically attacked and verbally assaulted in the Matamoros camp by a cartel member. In early June, two Haitian couples traveling with an 11-month-old said they survived a kidnapping attempt.
“Our findings make clear that the Biden asylum ban is a legal and humanitarian disgrace,” said Christina Asencio, director of research and analysis at Human Rights First and a co-author of the report. “Under the asylum ban, people seeking this country’s protection are forced to wait for months in Mexico where they are targeted for kidnapping, sexual violence, and exploitation while they struggle to get one of the limited appointments through the highly flawed CBP One app.”
The app has come under fire in recent weeks. Immigration advocates say the app is cumbersome and takes too long to secure an appointment, while opponents say it is only encouraging more people to cross into the U.S. illegally. The Biden administration has said the app is among the measures that have helped reduce unlawful immigration by more than 70% since Title 42 ended.
Last month, CBP said it would increase the number of appointments available on the app from 1,250 to 1,450 a day.
But Alma Ruth, founder of the nonprofit group Practice Mercy Foundation, based in McAllen, Texas, has visited several migrant camps in recent weeks and says conditions there are quickly deteriorating as temperatures soar, clean water is scarce and criminals take advantage of people seeking asylum or hoping to enter the U.S.
Recently, a family from Guatemala asked her to pray for them after gunfire erupted in a Reynosa encampment where cartels roam free.
“The amount of pregnant women, nursing women, toddlers, infants is outrageous,” she said.
“Neither government cares if these people live or die,” she added, referring to the United States and Mexico.