A new report from Human Rights Watch exposes the dangers posed to asylum-seekers under recent immigration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border. The report highlights how Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents employ the CBP One app to limit how many migrants can access the asylum system. It also shows how denying migrants and removing them to Mexico makes them more likely to be targeted in kidnappings, sexual assaults, and human trafficking. 

The implementation of the CBP One app for migrants seeking asylum has birthed a whole host of problems for asylum-seekers. The app, launched in October 2020, has the side-effect of agents using it to deny migrants the right to seek asylum for simply not having access to it. Instead, agents presume migrants are ineligible and subject to detention in abusive conditions in holding cells and processed for removal under expedited removal rules that too often do not provide adequate due process.

The Biden administration’s asylum rules severely restrict the right to seek asylum for migrants and force them to wait in dangerous and often inhumane conditions in Mexico. Under recent agreements between Mexico and the United States, thousands of asylum-seekers have been sent as far away as Mexico’s border with Guatemala. This after millions were treated similarly under former president Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Since May 2023, when Mexico agreed to accept removals and voluntary returns of non-Mexican nationals from the United States, CBP has sent thousands of people across the border,” reads the HRW report. “Earlier, under separate agreements, the United States sent more than 77,000 people, mostly from Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, to Mexico pending US asylum hearings, and it also carried out summary expulsions more than 2.8 million times including hundreds of thousands of expulsions to Mexico of migrants from mostly Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Haiti.”

The culture of lying to migrants within Border Patrol is a major issue. This level of deceiving asylum-seekers is an issue that has garnered a lot of attention, particularly when it came to the states of Florida and Texas busing migrants to major cities. But lying to migrants wasn’t drummed up by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. They adopted it after witnessing what Border Patrol agents do to migrants with impunity. President Biden’s asylum rules do nothing to quell this appalling and illegal practice that too often subjects migrants to dangerous environments and conditions.

“Under the Biden asylum rule, asylum seekers are sent to Mexico either because they were deported in the enhanced expedited removal proceedings or they agreed to a “voluntary return” to Mexico,” said the HRW report. “Some non-Mexican asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch they were warned by CBP officials that they would not be granted asylum and that they would face deportation with a 5-year bar on return to the United States if they did not agree to return to Mexico—typically without screening to ensure asylum seekers were not being returned to harm in Mexico. The non-Mexican asylum seekers said CBP officials told them they would be able to wait for a CBP One appointment and access the US asylum system if they agreed to be sent to Mexico.

“However, when US CBP officials carry out removals or returns of non-Mexican asylum seekers—Haitians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Cubans—to Mexico, they turn them over directly to Mexican INM agents who often apprehend them, place them on buses, they are not allowed to leave for up to three days, and relocate them to Villahermosa, Tabasco, at the border with Guatemala, without screening for protection needs,” the HRW report continued. “When effectuating these forced relocations, which INM calls “assisted returns” or “transfers,” INM officials often compel asylum seekers to sign a statement saying they will leave Mexico via its southern border within a certain number of days.

“Asylum seekers told Human Rights Watch that INM agents yelled at them and would not allow them to read what they were signing. They said INM agents also never asked them if they had a fear of returning to their home country or Guatemala.”

The problematic nature of removing asylum-seekers and sending them to countries where they have no support systems or have never been is obvious. Employment, healthcare, housing, and food are the most prevalent issues facing migrants in these cases. When adding in the threats of violence from gangs or cartels, it becomes even more harrowing. This brings us to migrants most likely subjected to these inhumane policies, migrants of color.

Racism in Border Patrol, CBP, and ICE has been known for two decades and regardless of who is president, this is an issue that the U.S. government refuses to address. This stems from the outright dehumanization of nonwhite migrants as both society and the media use terminology such as “illegal aliens” when referring to them. This dehumanization leads to a place where addressing the mistreatment of nonwhite people is justified. A common trait of U.S. society.

“The racially discriminatory impacts of the Biden asylum rule and the digital metering system, imposed by the nearly mandatory use of CBP One, are particularly apparent,” reads the HRW report. “These policies inflict disproportionate harm on Black, Brown, and Indigenous asylum seekers. These rules target people seeking safety at the southern border, the overwhelming majority of whom are people of color. It is also the case that the US humanitarian parole program, which offers an avenue into the privileged group of asylum seekers under the Biden asylum rule, is only available to Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. The program denies access to other nationalities, such as Guatemalans, of whom approximately 45 percent are Indigenous, and any African or Asian nationalities. Meanwhile, a separate humanitarian parole process is readily available to Ukrainians, who are predominantly white.”

Perceptions about migrants in the U.S. have always been mostly negative. But when we hear words like “invasion” and “crisis,” it’s worth noting that this is language once used by former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), David Duke, and much of the KKK itself. It comes as no surprise that it is now mainstream considering just how far to the right politics in the U.S. has gone since Duke’s Klan of the 1960s. With that political shift, the language went with it.

The demonization of asylum-seekers is something that has been part of U.S. society since before the Revolutionary War when the founders feared the Germanization of the colonies. The same rhetoric and fears about the extinction of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were no different than it is now. The only change is who is being targeted.

The founders complained of Germans, French, Spaniards, and Italians having a swarthy complexion and not assimilating to their liking. Now, the people that U.S. citizens fear are a little darker and more American than any European ever was considering they come from the Americas. But that doesn’t stop the dread that drives racist conspiracy theories like the “Great Replacement “ and “White Extinction” because those are foundational to the U.S. It is that ingrained mentality that leads to the inhumane treatment of migrants by government agencies.

 “Because they are perceived as transient, asylum seekers in Mexico are often denied access to essential services that Mexican citizens enjoy, like medical care, public education, and basic health care, by the government,” said the HRW report. “They are also systematically targeted in Mexico by both Mexican state and non-state actors for kidnapping, extortion, sexual assault, and other violence that may amount to persecution on account of their membership in the particular group of asylum seekers stranded on the Mexican border with the United States. The Mexican government is “unable or unwilling” to protect migrants in Mexico from persecution and discrimination, as documented in this report, and at times even carries out acts of discrimination and other persecution.”

Exposing the driving factors behind xenophobia, particularly Latinophobia is but the tip of the iceberg when faced with laws written by racists who classified nonwhite migrants as illegal aliens after referring to their ancestors as settlers driven by manifest destiny under the guise of some divine power. One of the biggest driving factors behind such abhorrent policies are the laws themselves which only serve to bolster the bigoted views by those enacting policies that don’t affect their sensibilities. Because in the U.S., cruelty has always been the point.

The Antagonist Magazine is a project made up of journalists, activists, and writers focused on amplifying the stories of marginalized communities. The goal is to educate the public by sharing narratives focused on independent voices. Born of an online community in 2019, our platform operates independently; free of corporate influence. Please consider supporting the work of dozens of writers from various communities.

Arturo Dominguez

Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice.

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