By Jose Servin
With activists and media mostly focused on the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from certain countries, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agents turning away asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border has largely gone unnoticed. A recent lawsuit filed by a group of immigrant rights organizations should change that with hopes of overturning this violation of U.S. and international law that has been going on since before Donald Trump won the presidency.
The American Immigration Council helped file the suit this July on behalf of Al Otro Lado, a bi-national legal services organization helping indigent deportees, migrants, and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. They claim that Border Patrol agents resorted to outright lies and coercion to “deny bona fide asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims.” The allegations of six anonymous asylum seekers represented in the suit are harrowing.
One woman sought asylum after her brother-in-law, a police official, was killed by cartel members. She told Border Patrol agents of her real fear of staying in Mexico. Despite relaying her experiences, they allegedly made her sign a form in English, which she didn’t understand, withdrawing her application to the U.S.
Another woman and her nephew, fleeing domestic violence and threats from the “Zetas” cartel, claimed they were told by la migra that the U.S was tired of taking in poor people. Asylum denials could be a potential reason behind the desperate attempts by some immigrants to cross the border this year. Despite a significant drop in crossings overall, the death-rate along the U.S-Mexico border is higher than in past years, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration.
While the fight for immigrant rights for those of us who made it to the U.S. is important, we must also keep in mind those whose lives depend on their ability to flee violence in their home countries, turmoil that can often be traced back to U.S. intervention. The important work of organizations like Al Otro Lado and the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana is just as crucial as any lobbying for the DREAM Act in combating the White House’s xenophobic agenda.
Just like grassroots organizations have pushed for a shift from the “Dreamer” narrative to be more inclusive of all 11 million undocumented folks in the U.S, we must also advocate for those of us who are desperately trying to immigrate here. The border can’t become a forgotten symbol of the division in our country. It continues to be a battleground for immigrant rights. Forgetting la frontera is a big mistake.