Misery should not be a public policy goal. But, it certainly seems to be if one looks at the experience of asylum seekers at the US/Mexico border.
While generally couched in other terms, the basic idea seems to be this: If you let conditions get really bad, and people suffer long enough, they will give up and go home.
The US government keeps making it harder and harder for anyone to request asylum at the southern border. They have created a nightmarish system. Asylum seekers have to wait for months for the opportunity to approach officials and file a petition. Once they do apply, they are returned to Mexico to wait for their claims to be adjudicated. This process often requires repeated trips to the US and back out again to Mexico.
The Mexican government allows its territory for use as the anteroom for US asylum seekers – the Remain in Mexico program. While I’m sure that the US pressured Mexico to do this, Mexico did it. These asylum seekers are now Mexico’s responsibility.
Unfortunately, Mexico seems to share the US policy goal of making asylum seekers miserable. According to the state of Tamaulipas, the federal government is not providing assistance to the asylum seekers while they wait. The traditional private migrant shelters don’t have the capacity to handle the massive number of people now waiting on the border.
The media is flooded with stories of asylum seekers in dire conditions, living in tents surrounded by mud and cold weather. The only thing in abundance seems to be illness and fear. Small private organizations do what they can, but they cannot fill the gap left by the state ignoring its responsibility. For example, physical security is a constant problem. A new report from Doctors without Borders, documented that last October, 33 of their 44 patients in Nuevo Laredo had been recently kidnapped. These we people who had been pushed back into Mexico to await their US asylum claim.
The Mexican government does help people who abandon all hope of asylum and agree to return home. Some asylum seekers have given up and left the border. Tens of thousands more remain. This population is going nowhere fast.
What you get when desperation trumps misery is human suffering. This should not be anyone’s policy goal.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson