Presidential candidate Julián Castro escorted a dozen LGBTQ+ and disabled asylum-seekers into the United States on Monday morning. But according to the Los Angeles Times, customs officials forced them to return to dangerous conditions in Mexico within hours.
Around the beginning of the year, the Trump administration created a “Remain in Mexico” policy that requires asylum seekers to wait outside the United States for an undetermined amount of time while courts process their applications. In some cases, that’s forced people to endure homophobic violence for months while the United States stalls.
It’s estimated that over 50,000 people fleeing persecution have been turned away, told to wait in Mexico — possibly forever — while the U.S. drags its feet on granting them protection.
When the policy was first established, officials said exceptions would be granted for “vulnerable” populations, but that doesn’t appear to have been true. Only about one percent of applicants are allowed to safely enter the U.S. while their cases are being considered.
Castro’s gesture was largely symbolic but underscores the disregard that the Trump administration has for the safety of LGBTQ+ people. The asylum seekers escorted by Castro had attempted to flee persecution in Cuba, Guatemala, and Honduras, but the U.S. had already turned them away while their applications are pending. Forced to remain on the Mexico side of the border for months at a time, they reported homophobic violence and threats.
Those denied access often have difficulty securing work and a mailing address while they wait in legal limbo, and some of the refugees who accompanied Castro were hoping that they’d at least be placed in protective custody. Dany, a 22-year-old Cuban lesbian, told the Times, “Ten years in detention is better than a day here.”
But even if the asylum seekers had been put into custody, they still might have been at risk. At least nine people have died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities this year.
Castro, who formerly served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama before running for president, had harsh words for government officials turning away people in need. "I see a lot of desperate parents, a lot of desperate children, sick children,” he said. “It's a disaster. People should not live like this."
The candidate also spent time at a memorial to people who have died attempting to cross the river to safety. That includes Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, who drowned in June as they tried to flee persecution.