Three asylum seekers were abducted in April while they were under a US immigration program that he had placed them in the care of Mexican officials in the city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Texas, said one of the victims and the UN migration agency.
The kidnapping, reported here for the first time, occurred despite measures that the administration of President Joe Biden said improved the security of the plan – known as the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) – which requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico his hearings in the United States immigration court.
The case is the first known kidnapping under the revamped MPP, explained Dana Graber, Mexico chief of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency involved in moving people under the program.
Reuters He learned the details of the abduction through an interview with one of the kidnapped migrants, a 29-year-old Peruvian chef named Raúl. A spokesman for the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also confirmed the kidnapping.
“We are aware of the incident and are extremely concerned,” Graber said, adding that he was in contact with Mexican authorities, both local and federal, “to prevent these things from happening again.”
The migrants were in the custody of officials from the city of Nuevo Laredo.not IOM, when they were kidnapped.
Shortly after taking office last year, President Biden ended the MPP as part of a push to reverse the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, but was forced to reinstate it in December following a court order.
In re-implementing the program, the Biden administration promised that new measures would improve the protection of migrants.
“A person believes that they are in good hands and that is not the case,” Raúl said of the United States government, asking that his last name not be revealed for fear of reprisals.
The Peruvian crossed the Rio Grande into Texas on April 10 after a flight to Mexico from his country. 10 days later, DHS officials returned him to Nuevo Laredo, a notoriously dangerous city where kidnappings abound in the border state of Tamaulipas.
Civil Protection officials from Nuevo Laredo took Raúl and two other migrants to a local shelter. But the kidnappers stopped the truck and took them captive, to extort thousands of dollars from their family and friends in the United States. Raúl was not clear who the kidnappers were, he said.
In a statement sent to Reutersa DHS spokesman said the case highlighted the “endemic defects” of the MPP. In his decision to end the program, the Biden administration cited risks to returned migrants, including the possibility of being kidnapped.
A federal judge in Texas ruled last year that the US government had violated procedural laws by ending the MPP, ordering its reinstatement.
Migrant advocates charge that the Biden administration has not done enough to fight the court order.
Raúl told his story to a Mexican lawyer in a five-page statement, seen by Reuters, which he signed on May 5. She shared the same account with IOM staff and a psychologist at the migrant shelter in Monterrey, those people told Reuters.
Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) declined to answer questions from Reuters about the kidnapping. The Latin American country’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters it is working with the US government, UN agencies and security forces to safeguard all migrants.
The Nuevo Laredo Civil Protection agency denied that the kidnapping had occurred. and instead pointed out that the three migrants jumped out of the car to avoid quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19. Other city officials declined to comment.
IOM officials say that as a result of the incident, at the end of April, state police began accompanying some migrants under the MPP when they were transferred within Nuevo Laredo.
The Tamaulipas Public Security Secretariat said its police were accompanying MPP migrants, as well as others who are not, in coordination with federal immigration authorities.
Raúl arrived in Nuevo Laredo on April 20 with a notice to appear in court in Laredo, Texas, the following month.
Under the revamped MPP, migrants in the program are generally bussed by IOM south to the safer city of Monterrey. But Raúl and two other returned asylum seekers tested positive for the coronavirus and, under a protocol aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, were required to remain in quarantine in Nuevo Laredo.
Instead, the assailants took the three men to a two-story house where they were held captive along with 20 other migrants, revealed the Peruvian.
Quickly, he realized that the victims of the criminals were migrants who had been returned or deported to Mexico. “They knew that these people had relatives there (in the United States),” he explained, noting that the kidnappers forced him and others to hand over the phone numbers of their contacts.
They insulted him and punched him in the stomach when he said he only had one contact, he said.
After four days of “anguish” and payment of a $6,000 ransom – half of what the kidnappers initially demanded – his captors took him to a bus stop and told him to leave town.
He took a bus to Monterrey, some 250 kilometers to the south, and contacted the IOM, which placed him in a shelter and transported him to the border for his first US court hearing in early May.
Once in Texas, Raúl successfully applied for an exception to remain in the United States for the duration of his asylum case.
In its decision to end the Trump-era program, the Biden administration referred to studies by human rights groups that documented hundreds of kidnappings of migrants returned to Mexico.
The Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) assured in a report last year that kidnapping was one of the most common crimes against MPP migrants.
The revamped MPP was designed to be different. DHS protocols issued in December promised “access to shelters in Mexico and safe transportation to and from ports of entry to these shelters.”
Stephanie Leutert, an immigration expert and former immigration policy adviser to the Biden administration, said measures such as moving immigrants from cartel-ridden Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey have improved the security of the program overall, but that the The Peruvian case shows that the protocols still have serious flaws.
“They returned me to Mexico and just what I feared happened to me,” Raúl lamented.