November 13, 2019 458 PM
If you have recently crossed a port of entry in our border region, you might have noticed hundreds of Mexican asylum seekers, parents and their young children, camping under makeshift canopies on the concrete near the bridges. There are approximately 3,000 Mexican citizens waiting on the streets of Ciudad Juarez with no assurance that they will ever be allowed to cross the border and pursue an asylum claim.
Having witnessed this disgrace firsthand during a recent border crossing, it is clear that the rule of law continues to be abandoned by this administration.
Article 33 of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish the principle of “non-refoulement,” stating “no Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any matter whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Border officials have stated that these people are being turned away at our border because there is no space for them in their facilities, and they lack agents to carry out efficient processing.
Despite claims to the contrary, CBP has more agents and money than ever before to process asylum seekers. CBP, which includes Border Patrol, is the largest law enforcement agency in the country with a budget that has more than doubled in the last two decades during which time the number of people coming to our border to claim asylum has decreased.
El Paso has been on the frontlines of this manufactured crisis since 2017. We know that individuals seeking asylum have a legal right under U.S. law to seek asylum no matter how they enter the country, as codified by the Immigration and Nationality Act in 8 U.S. Code section 1158 and upheld by U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court. To bypass this legal right, the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) were created and, to date, have forced more than 47,000 Central American immigrants to wait across the border in Mexico indefinitely.
In response to this manufactured crisis, our border community created the systems our federal government has failed to create, much less fund, through unparalleled hospitality services and volunteer power. In response, the administration created new policies that force these populations out of our reach, back into harm’s way.
MPP establishes certain exemptions that allow vulnerable populations, people from non-Spanish speaking countries and individuals who can demonstrate credible fear, to enter the United States legally. Because international law prevents asylum seekers from being sent back to the country they are fleeing, Mexican citizens cannot be returned to Mexico under MPP.
While current law prevents the expulsion and rejection of this Mexican refugee population, CBP is using the unofficial policy of metering (selective admission) to keep Mexican asylum seekers waiting on the streets of our sister city.
This binational community continues to bear witness to human suffering, and the erosion of longstanding federal policies that, while not perfect, held in place some basic level of respect for humans fleeing violence, persecution, and certain harm. As Ruben Garcia, one of our community’s most respected advocates said, “this is all happening under our watch.”
In the coming year, we will each be faced with the critical decision of choosing our nation’s next leaders. The moral compass that guides the decisions made and policies enacted by those leaders will have a direct and immediate impact on our families, our community, and our collective identity.
It is my hope that we exercise our power to shape the future of this country by electing leaders whose morals do not force people to return to the homes they have been forced to flee but instead reflect the values that founded this country and are exemplified in our binational community: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border.
Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Agriculture (Vice Chair); Natural Resources & Economic Development; Transportation; and Water & Rural Affairs. He also serves on the Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention & Community Safety, which was formed on Sept. 4, 2019, after the mass shootings in El Paso and Midland/Odessa.