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Advocacy Group Tries To Help Migrants Seeking Asylum In The U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Behind the latest of President Trump's arguments lies the prospects and futures of thousands of people. His argument is with Chief Justice John Roberts. The head of the Supreme Court rebuked the president for saying that judges were biased based on who appointed them. The president was making claims of bias after a judge did not rule his way, blocking plans to limit who can apply for asylum. That's the case where real people's lives are at stake. The administration wants to reject all asylum-seekers unless they go to legal border crossings. Well, what happens when asylum-seekers do that? Angelo Guisado is a lawyer for some of those seeking asylum. He's with the Center for Constitutional Rights. Welcome to the program.

ANGELO GUISADO: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: What kinds of people has your organization been representing?

GUISADO: Asylum seekers coming from Central America and Mexico who, due to the United States' policies - have refused them entry into the United States seeking access to the asylum process.

INSKEEP: These are people who got to Tijuana perhaps after a journey of several thousand miles from Central America, the kind of people who've been much publicized in that caravan from a few weeks ago.

GUISADO: That's right. And there have been multiple caravans. And it's hard to overstate just the absolute danger and violence these people fled from in their home countries and encountered on the way up to the border.

INSKEEP: But then they get to Tijuana, which is a fairly large city on the Mexican border. And there's a large U.S. border crossing. What has been happening over time when they go to that border crossing and apply for asylum?

GUISADO: For the past two or three years, the United States government has, using different methods, rejected individuals who have asked for asylum. In recent months, the government has coordinated with Mexican immigration officials and Mexican NGOs to mete out or perform some sort of wait list wherein asylum-seekers have to wait six weeks, two months in order to access the asylum process.

INSKEEP: So what does that mean in daily practice? If someone has come from, say, Guatemala or Honduras and they go to that border crossing and they say, I'm from Honduras - I would like to seek asylum - what exactly are they being told?

GUISADO: Steve, I'm not sure if I can swear on this program, but one individual from Honduras was just told [expletive] Honduras and was turned away two days in a row. Realistically, individuals who present at Tijuana are turned away, directed towards Mexican immigration. They then have to put their names on an asylum wait-list before they're even able to apply.

INSKEEP: OK. So when the people are turned away, are they told, we will never let you enter the United States - you're not allowed into the United States? Or are they told we've taken all the asylum-seekers we can today - please come back at another time?

GUISADO: Both are correct, actually. And it depends on the specific port of entry.

INSKEEP: Is that legal?

GUISADO: No. It's not. The INA is very clear that if an individual presents at a port of entry asking for asylum, they have the right - the immediate right to gain access to it.

INSKEEP: So this becomes relevant to the argument about the Trump administration telling asylum-seekers to go to a legal border crossing, which, on the surface, sounds perfectly reasonable. There's a process. Follow the process. Would you contend that the legal border crossings are, in any way, an open door for at least some asylum-seekers?

GUISADO: Not by any measure. Having been to six or seven ports of entry myself, I've seen with my own two eyes people turned away at ports of entry repeatedly. It's no wonder then that individuals are actually forced to cross, quote, unquote, "unlawfully." That, too, is protected under the INA. And they're able to apply for asylum both ways.

INSKEEP: The Immigration and Naturalization Act - that's the INA, right?

GUISADO: Yes.

INSKEEP: So what is happening to these other people who've stayed in Tijuana? They're trying to work the legal process, and they've been told, get started on this. Get on the waitlist. Don't know how long it's going to be. What's happening to them?

GUISADO: It's an unsustainable system. The United States and Mexico know this. What we've seen happen is hundreds - potentially thousands - of individuals in Tijuana are stranded in makeshift encampments, staying in an area known as Azteca (ph). These people are sick, tired. And it's severely at risk of very dangerous scenarios with the cartels.

INSKEEP: What do you mean by the cartels?

GUISADO: Border towns along the U.S.-Mexico border are increasingly at risk of cartels and gangs who prey upon migrants, the most vulnerable people for extortion, kidnapping, rape and assault. And some of my clients and many of my witnesses have been assaulted and/or raped while attempting to present at a port of entry.

INSKEEP: They've told you that?

GUISADO: Yes.

INSKEEP: Let me raise a couple of other things that people ask about these refugees moving north, the first one being, aren't lots of them actually economic migrants?

GUISADO: Some of them may be, yes. But I haven't encountered any, actually.

INSKEEP: When you have met people they have all had stories that sound incredible to you of serious fear of persecution or death?

GUISADO: Every single person I have met was either tortured, beaten, raped, assaulted and either went to the police or the government, who had no response or refused to respond, or it was so common that they knew that the government would do nothing, that they had no choice but to flee for their lives.

INSKEEP: Angelo Guisado is a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Thanks so much.

GUISADO: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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