Editor’s Note: Marla approached Latino Rebels, saying that she wanted to tell her story. She has granted explicit permission to be photographed—for her, her daughter, her sister and her sister’s child. Marla said that it’s important for people to learn about her story and the stories of other asylum seekers.
TIJUANA — When the migrant caravan made headlines last year, Marla and her then 2-year-old daughter were part of the group traveling the long journey from Honduras that ended at the U.S.-Mexico border. During the treacherous trek, she and the other asylum seekers faced numerous dangers as they slept on the streets, got sick and went hungry. Marla and her daughter, now 3 years old, are now part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. As a year has passed, they’ve attended several court hearings and are hoping to obtain asylum, yet there are no clear answers in sight.
“We ate when we were given a handout. We never knew when we would eat again. Sadly, it is still the same here in Tijuana,” the 25-year-old mother said tearfully about her journey with the caravan. “Sometimes we don’t know when the next meal will come, being stranded here between temporary jobs, shelters and sometimes a room to rent.”
After some agonizing months, waiting in shelters to apply for asylum to no avail, at one point Marla decided to cross the border with her 22-year-old sister and their two children in order to apply for asylum inside the U.S. They crossed by El Chaparral.
“We had to cross a river that has sewage. We encountered a Border Patrol agent who said, ‘Señoras, no crucen o disparo’ [‘Ladies, don’t cross or I’ll shoot],” she said. They still crossed and were soon processed and put through removal proceedings. After a few days in detention, in what is often called the ‘”hielera” (ice box), Marla said they were returned to Tijuana where they didn’t have a place to stay since they lost their spot at the shelter. They also didn’t have any food.
Migrant Protection Protocols
This past January, DHS implemented MPP.
“We have implemented an unprecedented action that will address the urgent humanitarian and security crisis at the Southern border. This humanitarian approach will help to end the exploitation of our generous immigration laws. The Migrant Protection Protocols represent a methodical commonsense approach, exercising long-standing statutory authority to help address the crisis at our Southern border,” then DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen said.
According to DHS, MPP is “a U.S. Government action whereby certain foreign individuals entering or seeking admission to the U.S. from Mexico —illegally or without proper documentation— may be returned to Mexico and wait outside of the U.S. for the duration of their immigration proceedings, where Mexico will provide them with all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay. “
Left on the streets of Tijuana, Marla and her daughter haven’t had migrant protection and no asylum processing.
They have been in Tijuana for almost a year now.
“I would say that out of all the horrible policies that they have instituted, including family separations, the asylum ban, trying to get rid of [the Flores Agreement]… out of all those things, I think that MPP is the most effective at eliminating any due process that these people could have,” Erika Pinheiro, Litigation and Policy Director for Al Otro Lado, told Latino Rebels. Pinheiro’s nonprofit specifically focuses on helping “over 10 thousand MPP’d people in Tijuana.”
Dealing With Court Hearings
For Marla and her daughter, the first hearing before a judge was back in August.
“For the hearing, we showed up at the border crossing with our hearing papers around 8 a.m. There we waited about two hours before our names were called. Then they took everything we had in our possessions, searched us and gave us bottled water. We were then taken to San Diego in a bus,” Marla recalled. “We were there the whole day. They only gave us water and no food for about 14 hours.”
“My daughter was sick, so she was crying a lot as we waited in line for our hearing at court. My daughter didn’t want to walk anymore so she stopped,” Marla continued. “A guard pushed me to continue walking and I almost fell with my daughter. I stared at him as if asking him why he was doing that. He then separated me from the group with my kid and put me in a room to wait. When I told him that it was time for my hearing, he told me ‘I don’t care!'”
“As I was before the judge, he seemed bothered by my daughter’s persistent cry. He asked me why I didn’t leave her at the shelter with somebody watching her, I told him I would not leave her with a stranger. He told me next time to leave her,” Marla explained.
“That night, we were released to the Mexican authorities at about 8 p.m. We didn’t leave the Mexican immigration office until 10 p.m. We had 15 pesos for the bus to take us back to where we were staying, but being that late at night, public transportation was no longer available. We would have to take a taxi. My sister begged for money. An old man who had just crossed the border from the U.S. gave us $5 U.S. dollars. The taxi wanted $10, but he settled for $5. We went to bed hungry that night. All that, for the judge to tell us to come back next month with an attorney, and no word about asylum had been even mentioned,” Marla said.
The second hearing was on September 23. Marla said that a sandwich was provided upon arrival, but no water.
“Again, we were told to come back for another hearing in a month and to bring an attorney,” she said.
The court provided a list of attorneys, but according to Marla, many do not respond and those who do, say they can’t help.
“Here is the thing with MPP—there is no asylum screening before they put someone on MPP,” Pinheiro said. “They are just putting people in court and sending them back to Mexico where we have heard stories of children of single parents under 10 being kidnapped. It is even dangerous for us to come down here and help. There is the danger of ending up on an illegal watch list, or become victims of crime in Tijuana.”
Fears of Returning Home
Besides Marla’s fears while in Tijuana, there are also the hardships back home in her native Honduras.
“We are Black, part of the Miskito tribe. We are discriminated against when we go to the city to seek work. We are given cleaning jobs and many suffer sexual abuse,” Marla said.
“We speak Miskito and learn Spanish when we travel to the city. I went to school to become a teacher. When you are Black person from a tribe, even teachers don’t want to teach you,” Marla added. “Our dad suffered a paralysis while fishing for a living, and when my brother became of age, he wanted so bad to go to a university to further his education, because the rest of us were little and needed his support. Instead, he enlisted in the army as a way of making a living to support us. That night, he cried all night, that’s how bad he wanted to go school. He had to sacrifice that. When I finished my teaching school, the government then required extra schooling at a university to be licensed, I couldn’t afford it, so I too gave up that dream.”
When asked what is the worse moment she has endured as an asylum seeker, Marla said: “The hardest thing is when in Tapachula [Meixco] last year, police fired tear gas and my daughter passed out in my arms. A lady died that day and also a newborn girl. We got separated from my sister. I was alone. People helped me. That night, we had to sleep under a bridge.”
“My dream is that my daughter would have a future,” Marla added.
For Marla and people like her, there’s no relief in sight, especially when the Trump administration makes it tougher for asylum seekers.
According to CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan, 51,000 asylum seekers have been sent back to Mexico under MPP.
“I don’t see hope in these judges. They are not really giving options. They won’t hear us or let us speak,” Marla said. “I often think of just going back, to the same fearful agony back home. It is fearful here anyway.”