Opinion: U.S. approach to asylum seekers along Mexico border needs an overhaul – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Kcomt left her life as a judge in Peru when she was in danger. She has worked for the United Nations and is a Refugee Congress honorary delegate. She lives in Santee.

There’s a myth about people who come to America seeking asylum. I know how it goes, because I came here myself, fleeing danger in Peru where I was a Superior Court judge. I was presiding over a paternity case involving a powerful politician, and, without going into too many details, I fled after people assaulted me. I was certain that if I stayed in the country, my life would be at risk.

Imagine the state of mind of somebody in that situation. You are literally running for your life. And yet the myth is that people who come to America seeking asylum are only here because they want an adventure, or because they are weak, or because they want an easier life than the one where they grew up.

That certainly wasn’t the case in my experience. I was successful and respected in Peru and did not want to leave my friends and family behind to start over in a foreign country. I fled because I had to. And that has been the experience of every single person I have met who comes to America seeking asylum over recent years.

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By the time you reach America in that state, to ask for this country’s protection and help, you are exhausted and desperate. Take it from me: The last thing on many people’s minds is how easy everything might be. The first thing on many people’s minds is the threat of imminent death. It’s a serious situation, and we should all take it deadly seriously.

With that in mind, the Biden administration is fooling itself in justifying the reinstatement of the U.S. government’s so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols,” otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, which requires international asylum-seekers who are not from Mexico to stay in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court dates. President Joe Biden promised to abandon this Trump-era program in 2020 for a more humane approach so it was shocking a few weeks earlier when the U.S. and Mexico restarted it. Biden has since asked the Supreme Court to rule on scrapping the policy.

The policy exposes asylum seekers to violence and kidnappings in dangerous border cities. In October, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the program had “endemic flaws” and “unjustifiable human costs.” But after a federal judge ruled that the effective cancellation of the policy didn’t follow proper procedures and ordered the policy reinstated, the Biden administration issued a new rescission memo in the hopes of resolving the judge’s legal concerns.

It has already sent the first asylum seekers back to Mexico. Why the rush to comply with such a fresh court order? If only the Biden administration addressed other policy matters with such urgency.

The reality on the ground is that people must camp out as they await hearings. I have met asylum seekers in my experiences advocating for refugees in San Diego, and at the border with Mexico in Tijuana. Mothers are camping out for months at a time without clear information on their cases. People fleeing criminal violence are sleeping under tarps without access to counseling to begin to understand the trauma they have experienced. In many cases, this trauma is the reason they are seeking asylum. And yet the U.S. is telling people, “You’re on your own.”

The expression “Migrant Protection Protocols” is a bad joke, and anyone who has experienced the policy knows it. The name is Orwellian. Why doesn’t America just tell asylum seekers, “We don’t care about you”? Why not call it the “Migrant Rejection Protocols”? Or something worse? It’s a policy that feeds into the myth of what asylum seeking is about.

Here’s the reality. Reinstating this policy is a breach of these people’s human rights. Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Office told reporters it was concerned about the “risk it poses on the already-stretched humanitarian capacity of Mexico to receive migrants.”

The gap between the reality and the fantasy of what this policy is recently caused 83 Catholic organizations to write letters to the presidents of Mexico and the United States, urging them to end the Remain in Mexico policy. They’ve cited Pope Francis’s call on Catholics — as these two presidents profess to be — to move towards an “ever wider we, which includes an accessible, just and welcoming asylum system to respond to the pope’s sacred call to action.”

We can and must do better by people who come here seeking our protection. It’s time to stop living in fantasy land.

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