Asylum-Seekers Respond To Trump Administration's Supreme Court Win

Sep 12, 2019
Originally published on September 13, 2019 7:17 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tijuana is home to thousands of migrants waiting to ask for asylum in the U.S. And now many of them will be turned back. That's because last night, the Supreme Court lifted an injunction on a new Trump administration policy. That policy requires migrants arriving at the southern border to first apply for asylum in a country they traveled through to get here. Reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler has more.

MAX RIVLIN-NADLER, BYLINE: Twenty-three-year-old Anthony Pinera arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry Wednesday morning. This has been his routine for four months and 11 days as he waits for his number to be called by U.S. authorities so that he can begin the asylum process. He left El Salvador because he says, as a young man, he was the target of gangs. He desperately wants to ask for asylum in the U.S.

ANTHONY PINERA: (Through interpreter) America is a free country. It's a country of opportunities. It's a country of laws. It's a country that has respect for who you are.

RIVLIN-NADLER: I tell him about last night's Supreme Court ruling, and he says that he wouldn't think about applying for asylum in any of the countries he passed through.

PINERA: (Through interpreter) All of Central America is the same. It's the worst. Mexico - how many have been murdered? - same as Central America and South America, too. We can't go.

RIVLIN-NADLER: On this day, he brought his three bags of luggage. He knew his number would be up soon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

RIVLIN-NADLER: And it was. Pinera crossed the border this morning, hopeful and excited. But under the new rule, he will most likely be barred from declaring asylum and be deported back to El Salvador.

The policy is one in a series of measures aimed at slowing the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border.

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KEN CUCCINELLI: Immigrants from a whole lot of countries have overwhelmed the system at the southern border.

RIVLIN-NADLER: That's Ken Cuccinelli, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, speaking with NPR's Morning Edition.

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CUCCINELLI: This will give us the ability to, first of all, deter some people coming with asylum claims, which is part of the intention.

RIVLIN-NADLER: The new asylum policy still faces ongoing legal challenges and might eventually be struck down. But in the meantime, Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the policy will still put thousands of migrants at risk.

LEE GELERNT: We're not going to sugarcoat it. This is definitely a step back. And we think lots of people will be put in danger while we continue to litigate this. But we have no choice but to push forward.

RIVLIN-NADLER: It's not just Central Americans who will be affected. For months, thousands of migrants from Africa, Asia and elsewhere have arrived in Tijuana after flying to South America and traveling over land to the southern border.

Alfred, who asked we not share his last name out of fear of being targeted by gangs in Mexico, has been waiting in Tijuana for more than two months. He fled Cameroon because of its ongoing political crisis.

ALFRED: I passed through Cote d'Ivoire, Benin - that's Cotonou - Ethiopia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama (laughter), Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.

RIVLIN-NADLER: He will now have to apply for asylum in one of those countries and be denied there to be considered for asylum in the United States. Would he consider going back to one of them to ask for asylum?

ALFRED: Not at all - asylum is where you think you have security.

RIVLIN-NADLER: He's determined to stay in Tijuana and wait for as long as it takes for his number to be called so he can ask for asylum in the U.S. He's heard a lot about changing immigration policy in the U.S. and hopes this new policy doesn't stand.

ALFRED: I will still have to try. I will try because I think where I have to - like, the U.S. is the most safest place for me.

RIVLIN-NADLER: Litigation over the rule is expected to stretch well into next year.

For NPR News, I'm Max Rivlin-Nadler at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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