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With New Asylum Policy In Place, Some Migrants Are Left In Limbo


How are asylum seekers absorbing a change in U.S. rules? Max Rivlin-Nadler of KPBS reports from Tijuana, Mexico on a rule that tells many migrants that they must apply for asylum in other countries before the U.S.

MAX RIVLIN-NADLER, BYLINE: A little after 6 a.m., migrants began crowding around a parking lot next to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Tijuana. They came to hear numbers called from an unofficial list that holds their spot for the few admissions the U.S. accepts for asylum processing each week. Some people had been waiting for months for their number to come up.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER #1: (Speaking Spanish).

RIVLIN-NADLER: Almost none had heard about the new rule and how it might impact their asylum cases. Carla, who only gave her first name, had been waiting for four months in Tijuana with her 5-year-old son. She's seeking asylum from Venezuela and had flown to Mexico. Because her number was so close to being called, she arrived with her suitcase each of the past few days just in case her number came up. But the new rule would prevent her from applying for asylum in the U.S. without first applying in Mexico. She was frustrated with the different laws regarding asylum seekers on both sides of the border.

CARLA: (Speaking Spanish).

RIVLIN-NADLER: She said that everyone here makes a sacrifice, has a hard time. They're stuck here for one month, two months, four or five months, and the law doesn't say one way or the other. Then it's just lost time.

While the new rule was aimed at Central American migrants, the demographics in Tijuana have shifted in the past few months. The list is now also filled with people fleeing political persecution in places like Cameroon and Eritrea.

One man from Cameroon I spoke with, who declined to give his name because he fears for his safety, was just signing up to join the waitlist today. The list has ballooned to its highest number ever - over 9,000 people. He left Cameroon because his family had been attacked and his brother was shot. He had traveled through eight other countries on his way to the United States. He didn't think asylum in those countries was an option because of the language barrier.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER #2: They don't even attempt to speak English. They don't even attempt to listen to you. So long as you talk in English, it's like nobody cares.

RIVLIN-NADLER: After four days of no new numbers being called, on this day, seven to eight people get the chance they're waiting for. A few minutes later, they're put in a van and heading to the United States.

But what happens to them next is unclear. According to the guidelines given to asylum officers and obtained by NPR, many of the migrants in Tijuana can now be deemed ineligible for asylum because they traveled through a second country, like Mexico, on the way to the U.S. Those rules were challenged in a San Francisco federal court Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. The claims of thousands of people waiting in Tijuana hinges on that case.

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


Max Rivlin-Nadler