A February 2020 report from Doctors Without Borders has found that the US immigration policies—including the Migrant Protection Protocols—are significantly worsening the conditions for Central American migrants and asylum seekers who already suffer from mental health issues stemming from the violence they are fleeing, Sandra Cuffe reported for Al Jazeera in February 2020. Based on surveys of 480 asylum seekers and migrants, conducted at five shelters along the migrant route in Mexico between January 2018 and September 2019, and records from thousands of mental health consultations, the Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) report presented two key findings.
First, as Cuffe wrote, violence in both migrants’ home countries and in Mexico is “a key precipitating factor in alarming levels of symptoms of mental illness among migrants and asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.” According to the MSF survey, 61.9 percent of migrants had experienced a violent event within two years of leaving their home country, including the death (42.5 percent) or a disappearance (16.9 percent) of a relative. In health consultations, these migrants displayed symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that were deemed to be “moderate” or “severe” on the Clinical Global Impression scale, an internationally recognized measure for the severity of psychological problems or mental illness. “The violence suffered by people living in [Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador] is comparable to that in a war zones,” according to the MSF report (p.4).
The report’s second key finding is that US immigration policies—including the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Stay in Mexico” program—compound these problems. Under the Migrant Protection Protocols, US immigration officials are returning asylum-seekers to Mexico, where they are obligated to wait while their case is processed. Since the policy was implemented in January 2019, more than 60,000 asylum-seekers, mainly form Central America, have been sent to Mexico to wait for their case to be processed. As MSF reported, the Migrant Protection Protocols program “further endangers the lives of many asylum seekers by forcing them to ‘Remain in Mexico’ while waiting for their legal proceedings” (p. 27). According to the MSF report, about 57.3 percent were exposed to violence, 39.2 percent were violently attacked, including sexual assault, and 27.3 percent were threatened or extorted while in Mexico.
Gordon Finkbeiner, coordinator of MSF’s Migrants Project in Mexico, told Al Jazeera that organized crime in Mexico frequently target migrants, who are seen as merchandise to be trafficked, for extortion. Migrants have even been kidnaped outside shelters or bus stations in Nuevo Laredo, a city in Mexico across the border with Texas. MSF believes that “the constant threat of violence leaves a profound mark on an individual’s mental health, which can sometimes go undetected due to stigmatization and lack of institutional resources for identifying and treating cases.”
Corporate coverage has not adequately addressed the issues raised by the MSF report. For example, NBC News did publish a report about the Migrant Protection Protocols’ impacts on immigrant, but its report neglected to consider the trauma that asylum-seekers have already experienced in their home countries.
Source: Sandra Cuffe, “US Policy Puts Migrants at Risk of Kidnapping, Extortion: MSF,” Al Jazeera, February 11, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/policy-puts-migrants-risk-kidnapping-extortion-msf-200211174904629.html.
Student Researcher: Edith Valencia (College of Marin)
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)