Asylum seekers wait at El Chaparral crossing port at the US-Mexico border, in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on January 29, 2019. GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images
Asylum seekers wait at El Chaparral crossing port at the US-Mexico border, in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on January 29, 2019. (GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Immigration Lawyers Denied Entry to Mexico as U.S. Rolls Out New Asylum Policy

Immigration Lawyers Denied Entry to Mexico as U.S. Rolls Out New Asylum Policy

2 min

Over the past several weeks, American immigration lawyers who work directly with asylum-seekers in Mexico have been denied entry to Mexico due to “migratory alerts” being placed on their passports by a foreign government. These denials have coincided with the rollout of a new policy by the Department of Homeland Security that is sending back some asylum-seekers to Mexico for the duration of their asylum process, where they will have to rely on immigration lawyers crossing the border to assist with their cases.

Last Friday, Nora Phillips, the executive director of Al Otro Lado, a legal service provider for refugees in Tijuana, was sent back to the U.S. from the airport in Guadalajara by Mexican authorities after a flight from Los Angeles. Phillips, who was separated from her 7-year-old daughter for at least 10 hours, was told that her that passport had been flagged by an unidentified government, but Mexican officials did not elaborate on why Phillips had been flagged.

Other lawyers in her organization are also being denied entry into the country. Nicole Ramos had her SENTRI pass, which offers expedited crossing at the border, revoked and confiscated two weeks ago.

“I crossed on that Thursday, and that’s when my SENTRI pass was confiscated. They advised me that they could not give me any information,” Ramos said.

Ramos is unsure what would happen if she were to leave Mexico and try to return. So she hasn’t left. Al Otro Lado’s litigation director was also denied entry to Mexico this week, after the Mexican government told her that an “alerta migratoria,” had been placed on her passport by an unidentified foreign government.

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The new restrictions on the lawyers’ passports come at the same time that non-Mexican refugees are being sent back to Mexico as part of the policy that the Department of Homeland Security has dubbed the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” As of Sunday night, immigration advocates said at least 14 Central Americans have been returned to Tijuana.

“It’s the epitome of dramatic irony that the U.S. government is telling asylum-seekers that U.S. attorneys are going to come and handle their cases but when you have some of the principle attorneys who handle refugees issues on the border, attempting to access Mexico, there are alerts placed on our passports which are causing Mexican officials to deny us entry or deport us,” Ramos said.

She believes the U.S. government is behind the migratory advisories. “The denial of entry and the deportation of my co-directors is directly tied to our action in defending human rights here along the border,” she said.

Customs and Border Protection said that it didn’t place any security alerts on Phillips and “many factors could deem a person ineligible for SENTRI,” adding that “being an Al Otro Lado lawyer, or their employee, in any part doesn’t make you ineligible for SENTRI.”

Al Otro Lado says it is currently working with several agencies on both sides of the border to find out who placed the advisory on their passports. The migratory advisories have not been limited to immigration attorneys.

Kitra Cahana, an American-Canadian photojournalist who has been covering the migration of refugees from Central America, has also repeatedly been denied entrance to Mexico, along with other journalists. Cahana had crossed back and forth across the border without incident for several weeks, before she was turned back after flying to Mexico City from Detroit on January 17. She’s currently in northern Guatemala after she was again denied entry to Mexico along its southern border.

“For me, this is a question of freedom of the press and our ability as the press to cover important stories like the migrant caravan,” Cahana said. “And I, along with other journalists, are effectively no longer able to cover the story of the migrant caravan. What kind of list have I been put on? Who placed my name there?”

Mexican officials have not yet returned requests for further details on the denials.

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