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Immigration Law

US: ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program Harming Children

HRW, Feb. 12, 2020

"A United States government program exposes children, as well as their parents, seeking asylum to serious risk of assault, mistreatment, and trauma while waiting for their cases to be heard, Human Rights Watch said today in a joint investigation report.

Human Rights Watch, working with Stanford University’s Human Rights in Trauma Mental Health Program and Willamette University’s Child and Family Advocacy Clinic, found that the US Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, commonly known as “Remain in Mexico,” compelled families with children to wait in unsafe environments in Mexico for many months. Parents said that prolonged immigration court proceedings, fear of being incarcerated, and uncertainty about the future took a toll on their family’s health, safety, and well-being. Many described changes in their children’s behavior, saying they became more anxious or depressed after US authorities sent them to Mexico to await their hearings.

“The conditions, threats to safety, and sense of uncertainty asylum seekers face while waiting in Mexico creates chronic and severe psychological stress for children and families,” said Dr. Ryan Matlow, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “We know that these forms of pervasive, unresolved complex trauma can lead to significant long-term negative consequences for child development and family functioning.”

Human Rights Watch and other investigators interviewed parents and children from 60 families seeking asylum between November 2019 and January 2020. Most families were from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, with a few from Cuba, Ecuador, and Peru. The investigators also spoke with lawyers, doctors, shelter providers, faith leaders, and Mexican officials."