On Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro escorted 12 asylum-seekers from President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program into the U.S. in an effort to persuade agents to let them stay in the country as they await the outcome of their immigration court cases. But not even the presence of a high-profile politician could help them. Hours later, they were all sent back to Mexico.
The group included eight LGBTQ immigrants from Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as a deaf woman from El Salvador and her three relatives. Many of them alleged they had been harassed and assaulted while in Mexico.
“Ten years in detention is better than a day here,” Dany, a 22-year-old lesbian who fled Cuba with her partner, told the Los Angeles Times upon her arrival from Matamoros to Brownsville, Texas with Castro.
According to a report by the nonprofit Human Rights First, asylum-seekers who were returned under the policy reported 340 violent crimes last month, including instances of rape, kidnapping and torture. Members of the LGBTQ community were disproportionately targeted in the attacks, which spiked from 110 in August.
“The same people who are living with us discriminate against us,” Dany, who asked the publication to be identified by only her first name since her immigration case is pending, said.
Since Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the Trump administration’s policy forcing people seeking asylums to wait in Mexico, went into effect in January, the Department of Homeland Security has said that vulnerable populations would be excluded from the program on a case-by-case basis. MPP’s guiding principles detail that migrants who are “more likely than not to be persecuted” as well as those with “physical and mental health issues” would not be subjected to the policy.
After the group was swiftly sent back to Mexico, the Texas Civil Rights Project, a collective of movement lawyers, questioned the administration’s directive to protect those at risk of violence.
“If these people — LGBTQ migrants who have been assaulted for who they are in the camps, disabled people, children — do not meet the criteria for ‘vulnerable populations,’ then the ‘vulnerable’ exemptions in ‘Remain in Mexico’ are lip service,” the organization said in a statement. “Everyone on the ground here knows it, and now we can prove it.”
On Twitter, Castro said forcing the group to return to Matamoros, many of them for a second time, was “outrageous.”
“By law, these migrants are supposed to be exempt from the Remain in Mexico policy—but @CBP had decided to ignore their due process,” Castro, who served as Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor, wrote.
The Texas Democrat isn’t the first candidate to join asylum-seekers at the border. In June, former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke from Texas met with migrants who had returned to Mexico at a shelter in Juarez. Not long after, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker escorted five pregnant women in the Remain in Mexico program from Juarez to El Paso.
More than 50,000 people seeking asylum have been sent to Mexico to await their hearings since the program started.