House to Investigate Policy That Ships Asylum Seekers to Mexico – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee opened an investigation on Tuesday into a Trump administration policy that sends many asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for their court hearings, and Democrats demanded documents, data and communications by the end of the month.

The “Remain in Mexico” initiative, committee Democrats said, “is a dangerously flawed policy that threatens the health and safety of legitimate asylum seekers” and warrants “a comprehensive review of the policy, its implementation and its impact on vulnerable populations.”

“As of today, there are 31 active travel advisories for Mexico, including five warnings in which the State Department explicitly advises Americans against travel,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security. “It is difficult to understand why this administration is sending children and families to areas where they will face certain harm.”

The initiative, which forces migrants to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases wind through the court system, is one of the most consequential immigration policies implemented by President Trump. The administration started rolling out the initiative early last year by returning dozens of migrants to Tijuana, Mexico.

Over the next year, more than 57,000 migrants were returned to Mexico to await a resolution in their immigration cases, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency. Mexico agreed to work with the United States to expand the program after Mr. Trump threatened to impose tariffs on the country if it failed to slow migration to the American border.

While officials with the Department of Homeland Security have argued that the policy helped alleviate crowded border facilities, lawyers and immigrant rights groups have said the program restricts the migrants’ ability to secure legal representation and exposes a vulnerable population to drug cartels.

Advocacy groups have recorded hundreds of violent attacks, abductions and sexual assaults against migrants returned to Mexico under the program. The cartels have been known to kidnap migrants forced back to Mexico and demand ransom from their relatives in the United States.

Charanya Krishnaswami, the advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA, said on Twitter that she was “thrilled” that the committee would be investigating the policy, “which has caused untold human suffering, dismantled our asylum system, and paved the way for massive violations of human rights.”

Mr. Trump has fallen behind schedule on the construction of his border wall, but he has used the “Remain in Mexico” policy to accomplish his goal of severely limiting the release of migrants at the border into the public. They are instead forced to wait in places like Tamaulipas, Mexico, an area where levels of violence are so high that the State Department has warned Americans against traveling there.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said on Twitter that the policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, “has been and will continue to be an effective tool to address the ongoing crisis at the southwest border.”

The announcement was timed to mark one year since House Democrats introduced legislation that would prevent the separation of undocumented children from their parents at the United States border, unless it is determined that it is best for the child. Senate Democrats, who have introduced companion legislation, have also questioned the legality of the policy and its effect on asylum seekers.

“We need to do absolutely everything possible and be as aggressive as possible,” said Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, who has led a number of congressional delegations to her El Paso district to examine the effects of the administration’s immigration policies. “This administration has absolutely no problem circumventing Congress, circumventing asylum laws, circumventing due process. I feel like we should use absolutely every tool available to us.”

The letter to the department was signed by the committee chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, and Democratic members of a subcommittee focused on immigration and citizenship, including Representatives Escobar and Sylvia R. Garcia of Texas, Zoe Lofgren and Lou Correa of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida.