Migrant families, and especially children, who are waiting in Mexico for asylum in the United States, are facing severe stress and trauma with “long-term” consequences, warned Human Rights Watch (HRW) this Wednesday.
When assessing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, known as “Remain in Mexico,” which the administration of President Donald Trump began implementing on January 29 last year, HRW warned that this policy exposes applicants to asylum to violence and diseases.
The program allows Washington to return to the neighboring country those undocumented immigrants who arrive at the border and request asylum (no matter where they come from) to wait for their cases to be resolved in the U.S., which can take years.
Fear and anxiety, a constant
“We are beginning to believe that there is no safe place where we can go and be accepted,” said Nicola A., one of those interviewed between November 2019 and January 2020 for this study.
Nicola confessed that asylum seekers feel “fear and anxiety in Mexico” because their kidnappers still persecute them, but they also fear being “separated and detained again in the horrible conditions of immigration detention.”
“I noticed that there were numerous people with lice, as well as people with signs and symptoms of chickenpox. However, we all stayed in the same rooms. These conditions were extremely unhealthy,” said this woman about the situation in a detention center where she was taken.
As part of the mechanism used for asylum seekers, families must go at dawn to a point in a border crossing that has been assigned to them for court hearings in the United States, forcing them to wait for several hours, after which they can be sent to migrant detention cells where they could stay for hours or days.
“If you say you’re afraid to return to Mexico, they put you in a cell in the ‘cooler’ (as migrants call detention centers because of their low temperatures),” said Nelly O., a migrant from Honduras.
Waiting in unsafe environments
The document, which includes the testimonies of families from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, as well as from Cuba, Ecuador and Peru, among other interviewees, discovered that this policy requires that families with children wait “in unsafe environments in Mexico for many months.”
The study, carried out in collaboration with the Human Rights Program in Trauma Mental Health at Stanford University and the Willamette University Child and Family Advocacy Clinic, revealed the impact that extended judicial processes have on families, the fear of being imprisoned and the uncertainty about their future.
“The conditions, threats to safety and feelings of uncertainty faced by asylum seekers while they wait in Mexico create chronic and severe psychological stress on children and families,” said Ryan Matlow, Clinical Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Looking to the future, he stressed that these forms of unresolved trauma “can lead to significant long-term negative consequences for child development and family functioning.”
“We have seen a change in him,” Edwin F. admitted, referring to the behavior of his five-year-old son after three months of waiting in Mexico. “Now he gets upset easily, he is more irritable, he gets angry easily. Now he is anxious and impulsive, he doesn’t control himself. He behaved better in Honduras,” he lamented, and admitted that parents did not want “this kind of life for our son.”