Asylum seekers stranded at border in Mexico face threat of violence

TIJUANA, Mexico (KABC) -- Eighteen-year-old William and his three siblings live in a blue tent at a migrant encampment in Tijuana, Mexico.

Shortly after they arrived from Nicaragua fleeing political persecution last year, his teen sister was nearly kidnapped. He and his brother were assaulted when they stepped in.

His story mirrors what many migrants at the border are facing.

Months before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Immigration Policy Center of UC San Diego surveyed 1,000 asylum seekers in Tijuana and Mexicali who were forced to remain there under the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy, also known as Migrant Protection Protocols.

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"The extent to which people experienced violence was much higher than we ever imagined," said professor Tom Wong, the director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center. "So one out of every four in our surveys, either experienced violence or were threatened with violence."

The research projected the likelihood someone would experience violence in Mexico was 33% for every 100 days.

"If those numbers actually held, that means a year into the pandemic nearly every asylum seeker would have been threatened with violence or have experienced violence while waiting in Mexico," Wong said.

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In one instance, a woman who spoke to Eyewitness News said she fled the Mexican state of Guerrero after her husband was murdered by a cartel. She and her children were threatened.

The Biden administration is beginning to hear some asylum cases in the pipeline, but largely turning people away under a U.S. code implemented under the last administration, citing COVID-19 health concerns.

"Behind the numbers we should remember that these individuals are asylum seekers who fear persecution," Wong said. "And at the very least we should give them due process. We should hear their migratory stories to figure out whether or not that's true."

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