Chelsea Naylor is a Department of Justice Accredited Representative in the Tahirih Greater DC office. She wrote this account after traveling to Mexico in November 2018.
Last November, I spent four days in Mexico City with IMUMI, a partner organization working with migrants seeking to enter the United States. My role was to speak to people so that they were fully aware of their rights in the immigration process and knew what was ahead of them on their journey to the U.S. Those four days were some of the hardest of my life.
Most of the people I met had recently suffered significant trauma, and some just sobbed in my arms. At least 80 percent of the people I spoke to had recently lost someone, often their child, and usually at the hands of gang members. I talked to two young gay men who had been attacked because of their sexual orientation. I met a young boy with a scar the size of my hand across his stomach who had been stabbed because of his mother’s political beliefs.
These individuals were fleeing for their lives to escape persecution and find a sliver of safety. I had to tell them that with the current asylum system in the U.S., where legal protections for immigrant survivors of violence are further eroded each day, the prospects are grim. They will have to wait at least six weeks in Tijuana (recently ranked the most dangerous city in the world), because only 40 asylum seekers are allowed to pass each day. Then they should expect to be in detention for about two years, with no possibility of bond.
I hadn’t fully understood the absurd process for detained immigrants before my time in Mexico. The lack of humanity in the asylum process — a process meant to provide refuge for those who truly cannot live safely at home — blows my mind. There were people I met who had valid claims to apply for asylum, but they had every obstacle in their way in order to reach that protection. For some of the gay men and trans women I met, the idea of being in ‘jail’ for two years was as bad as death, because of the disgusting acts they have already endured at the hands of police in their own country.
People approaching the southern border are coming from regions with some of the world’s highest homicide rates and have experienced severe violence that few of us can imagine. However, when it comes down to the core of who we are, they aren’t any different than you or me. These individuals are someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, friend – and they are fleeing out of absolute necessity. They are going to the ends of the earth for not only their lives, but for the lives of their children. They are taking a path that will almost certainly include violence, hunger, danger — something we would all do if it was our only chance at survival.