First visit to the US-Mexico border by Parliament's Subcommittee on Human Rights
MEPs call on the US administration to respect international law and US federal law on protecting asylum seekers, who must not, by any means, be criminalised.
The cross-party delegation from the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) was led by Chair Maria Arena (S&D, BE), and composed of Isabel Wiseler-Lima (EPP, LU), Ivan Štefanec (EPP, SK), Gheorghe-Vlad Nistor (EPP, RO), Isabel Santos (S&D, PT), Dietmar Köster (S&D, DE), Susanna Ceccardi (ID, IT) and Tineke Strik (Greens/EFA, NL). The delegation visited El Paso (Texas, USA), Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua, Mexico) and Washington D.C. from 24 to 28 February to assess the human rights situation of migrants and refugees at the US-Mexico border. This was a follow up to the European Parliament’s urgency resolution adopted on 18 July 2019.
In order to have a comprehensive view on the current situation at the US-Mexican border, and drawing on the EU’s complex challenges at its own external borders, the delegation held meetings with municipal and states’ political authorities, community leaders, local civil society organisations, churches representatives, international organisations' representatives (UNHCR, IOM, ICRC, UNICEF and IRC) as well as with academics, legal experts and lawyers.
During these meetings, it became clear that the recent measures, which are complex, unpredictable and lack cohesion, erode the human rights of migrants and refugees and contradict exiting federal laws.
In El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, MEPs visited shelters run either by local communities or by the Chihuahua state’s institutions, where refugees and migrants, including children, are hosted. The delegation was impressed by the hospitality, solidarity and generosity of the local communities and by their dedication to alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable.
The delegation shared its concerns on the alarming impact of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) applied by the US administration in cooperation with the Mexican government. By pushing back thousands of Central American nationals at the Mexican border towns, to await the outcome of their asylum claims, the MPP has generated a structural burden, in addition to putting at risk the safety of migrants and refugees who face abuses such as extortion, kidnapping and many documented acts of violence perpetrated by criminal organisations and smugglers. MEPs also observed first-hand the particularly problematic consequences of this situation for women, who face a range of egregious violations, including femicide.
In addition, the delegation visited a detention facility run by the US Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and was deeply concerned by the prison environment and the disciplinary treatment imposed on asylum seekers, who are detained in the same conditions as criminals.
The delegation was encouraged by the openness and pragmatic vision of the local and county-elected politicians in El Paso, who referred to the longstanding relationship between the border communities. Building on this, those on both sides of the border must strive to find sustainable solutions for migration.
The DROI delegation remains deeply concerned by a number of human rights challenges and had the opportunity to share their concerns openly during several meetings with US interlocutors:
- The lengthy reunification process for families, notably the children separated from their parents;
- The shutdown of the US Asylum system at the US-Mexico border through new tools (PACR, HARP), which denies the vast majority of protection claims introduced by nationals from Central American countries and beyond;
- The compliance of the US administration’s obligation under international (violation of the Geneva Convention) and federal law with regard to sending back people to countries where they could face danger;
- The complexity of migration as a global challenge, which requires a comprehensive multilateral response, including adequate and accessible legal pathways for migration;
- The ongoing harassment of those who defend the human rights of migrants and refugees in the border area.
The DROI delegation held meetings in Washington DC with the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as well as with Representatives in the US Congress. MEPs and their counterparts have expressed their common willingness to deepen the political dialogue on migration and human rights as part of the transatlantic dialogue, including through a joint hearing in the near future and a discussion on the means to step up joint efforts to address the root causes of migration in countries of origins.
While in the US, the delegation was informed that the State of Colorado has decided to abolish the death penalty, a decision that the DROI delegation warmly welcomed.
Ms Ceccardi (ID, IT) refrained from signing up to the statement.
The Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), implemented at the beginning of 2019, allows asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting court proceedings in the United States. Since October 2019, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) started implementing two new programmes in the Rio Grande Valley that can have repercussions on access to asylum. The Prompt Asylum Claim Review (PACR), which applies to non-Mexican individuals, and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP), seek to keep asylum seekers in CBP custody for their credible fear processing instead of transferring them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. Both programmes result in rushed credible fear screenings, without access to legal counsel, and have been put in place with pilot initiatives tested in El Paso. The Geneva Refugee Convention, to which the US is a party, obliges states not to reject refugees requiring protection (refoulement).