Updated at 12:10 p.m. on October 10, 2019.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico—I met Dana outside the Little Habana restaurant, where she was hunched over a cellphone, struggling to understand a series of prompts in English, directions from a U.S. immigration detention contractor, on how to deposit enough money to call her husband.
Dana and her husband left Ciego de Ávila, Cuba, in March and crossed the Mexico-U.S. border in June. (Dana, like the other asylum seekers in this story, asked to be identified only by her first name because of her pending case with American immigration authorities.) But though she was detained for 44 days and returned to Juárez, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shipped her husband to a privately run detention center in Louisiana. It had been weeks since they last talked. “Thank you for your patience,” said the voice on the phone. “We are currently experiencing a high call volume that may extend your wait time.”
Like Dana, more than 12,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Juárez since the Trump administration expanded its Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) in June, forcing asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexican border towns. Each day, their number grows by as many as 300—all of them forced back here, a city once called the “murder capital of the world.” Then last week, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to temporarily carry out a “safe third country” plan, pending legal challenges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling would force migrants to first apply for asylum in one of the countries they passed through; otherwise they will be denied U.S. protection. It’s still unclear how this will be carried out, but it will almost certainly compound the issues MPP has already brought to the border.