A family forced to flee Mexico seeks asylum in US
The International Rescue Committee has been supporting asylum seekers to gain protection and thrive in their new homes for nearly a decade. Over the last four years, the Trump administration’s devastating policies have dismantled humanitarian protection in the U.S. Asylum grants have plummeted, detention has expanded, and the COVID-19 pandemic is pretext to systematically expel asylum seekers at the border.
This “new normal” reflects a double tragedy. Global protection needs were already massively unmet, but those needs are likely to grow exponentially as a result of the global health and economic crises. Damage done to asylum and protection systems will take years to repair, even if there is political will. Moreover, dangerous precedents have been set and moderate governments may continue policies that violate rights, deny protection to those in need, and perpetuate racial injustice.
Last year, the IRC provided case management, humanitarian reception, and legal assistance to asylum seekers, unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people seeking protection in the U.S. The IRC has served thousands of individuals, children and families seeking asylum and protection before, during and since the current sustained crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The IRC’s services include immediate assistance and comprehensive case management, legal representation to adults and unaccompanied children facing removal proceedings, and home studies to unaccompanied children. The IRC also provides limited legal assistance to vulnerable individuals affected by the Remain in Mexico policy and short-term humanitarian assistance at it’s 24/7 Welcome Center in Phoenix. Across the U.S., the IRC also serves resettled refugees, asylees, survivors of torture, and victims of human trafficking.
The IRC has been working on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border since 2018. In Mexico, the IRC is responding in 17 shelters along the border, providing hygiene kits and psychosocial support, as well as a specific shelter for refugees that facilitates a 14-day quarantine before being moved to larger government shelters. The shelter, which can hold 108 people, also ensures that women can stay safe while in quarantine, instead of on the streets where femicides are on the rise. In the shelter, women can receive virtual case management. This “Triage Hotel” provides psychosocial support, COVID-19 testing, triage and helps limit COVID-19 from entering shelters on the border, which can be poorly ventilated and include communal eating and sleeping. As part of the assistance provided in Mexico, the IRC is working with local partners to launch a COVID-19 public health awareness campaign along with psychosocial support in shelters at the Mexico-U.S. border in Ciudad Juárez.
The project will directly benefit 17 shelters hosting approximately 3,000 people and reach an additional 10,000 in surrounding host communities. The initiative will include sessions on the transmission of COVID-19, protective and preventive measures, including identification of at-risk groups, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, where to access help and support, reinforcement of public health best practices and the distribution of hygiene kits.
In El Salvador, the IRC provides emergency assistance to help those who are most at risk to find shelter and safety, as well as cash assistance to help people rebuild their lives. The IRC launched CuéntaNos, an interactive service that provides trustworthy, up-to-date information for people affected by crisis.
The IRC has recently launched a new instance of its Global ‘Signpost’ program for asylum seekers in Mexico, called InfoDigna. A collaboration between the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps and developed with the support of technology companies Google, Cisco, Trip Advisor, Twilio, Box, Facebook and Zendesk, Signpost consists of four components: bespoke information products hosted online on various platforms, connectivity via Wi-Fi hotspots to enable access to digital information, two-way communication facilitated by moderators via community-building social media channels, and regularly updated maps to locate health and other services. Since 2015, Signpost has served approximately two million individuals in seven languages through a website, Facebook, Whatsapp, blog, and an app across eight countries.
IRC’s presence on the U.S. side of the border provides a unique opportunity to link up services as well. We work with Central American families from harm to home -- from the crisis in El Salvador or Honduras, when families are stuck on the Mexican side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, when they are released on the U.S side of the border in Arizona, Texas, and California, and throughout their court proceedings in the U.S. In the U.S., the IRC will continue to help meet asylum seekers’ basic needs, facilitate family reunifications, connect people to critical legal services and help them access psychosocial support.
In 2021, the IRC will need to rapidly scale up asylum, protection and immigration programs in the U.S. to respond to growing needs and maximize opportunities to promote system change that truly upholds rights. Through partnerships with local communities, migrant and refugee-led organizations and the incoming administration, the IRC will continue to deliver evidence-based programs that help vulnerable individuals survive, recover and regain control of their futures.
Asylum seekers at an IRC shelter in Juarez, Mexico