Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro crossed the border at the Gateway International Bridge Monday morning to visit a few of the hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants stranded in Matamoros and waiting for immigration court hearings.
The migrants, the vast majority from Central America, number around 1,000 in Matamoros and are there because of a Trump administration policy — the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, or “remain-in-Mexico” policy — that makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico until their hearings.
The policy is one way the Trump administration is trying to discourage migrants from coming to the United States and claiming asylum. Before MPP was implemented, asylum-seekers were allowed to wait in the United States, frequently with family members already living here, until their hearing dates.
Castro, former mayor of San Antonio and Housing and Urban Development secretary during the Obama administration, at a press conference following his tour of the migrant camps described MPP as a “horrific policy” that is forcing families to live in squalid, dangerous conditions.
“I came here to today to see what’s happening on the Mexican side of the border because of President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or remain-in-Mexico policy,” he said. “What I saw today is that this president has helped to create a humanitarian crisis.”
Many of the migrants are sick, underfed and lack reliable access to potable water, Castro said. While MPP calls for migrants to be provided with humanitarian protections while in Mexico, Castro said they weren’t in evidence.
“I don’t see humanitarian shelters,” he said. “What I see are tents that I understand a lot of nonprofits have provided for these families. I see a lot of desperate parents, a lot of desperate children, sick children.”
At one point, Castro led a throng of reporters and onlookers down the bank on the Mexican side to the Rio Grande, where a dead horse or cow floated nearby.
“It’s a disaster,” he said. “People should not live like this. … That’s not in keeping with the best of who we should be as Americans.”
Castro called MPP disastrous not just because of the humanitarian crisis aspect but also because it flies in the face of traditional U.S. policy toward migrants. Many of the families forced to wait in Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and other border communities have been subjected to violence, he said.
“Some have been kidnapped, some of have been extorted, some have been treated a lot worse than what they were fleeing from,” Castro said. “I call on the administration to end the remain-in-Mexico program immediately. If I’m elected president, we will immediately … end the MPP program.”
Crossing back into the U.S., Castro presented to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers 13 asylum seekers who, he claimed, are exempt from MPP rules and legally entitled to wait in the United States for their hearings. Among them was a migrant with a physical disability accompanied by family members, and members of the LGBTQ community who have been persecuted, subjected to violence and are experiencing trauma, he said.
“We believe that qualifies as a mental health issue and that they should be exempted from MPP because of that,” Castro said.
As far as logistics, the United States is fully capable of handling all the migrants who come to the border, he said.
“We know how to do this,” Castro said. “Many of the people who are coming here to the border, they have family members who live in the United States. Our resources should be spent trying to get them into those loving homes as quickly as possible.”
Asylum-seeking families without members in the United States should still be allowed to stay together as a family while waiting for hearings, he said. Keeping families together should be the priority, as opposed to “dedicating resources toward a wall that most Americans don’t want and that won’t work, or to detention facilities,” Castro said.
“We need to change this policy,” he said.