Watch CBS News

Migrants stuck in Mexico faced 6,356 violent attacks since January, report finds

Thousands of migrants stranded in Mexico and blocked from applying for U.S. asylum have reported being kidnapped, sexually assaulted or physically attacked since President Biden took office, human rights researchers revealed Tuesday.

A report compiled by Human Rights First, a Washington-based advocacy group, tracked 6,356 attacks against migrants who were expelled to Mexico by U.S. border officials or barred from requesting U.S. humanitarian refuge since January. 

The list of attacks, which has grown by 95% since the group's last report in June, is based on interviews with asylum-seekers, surveys filled out by migrants, press reports and information provided by attorneys and humanitarian aid groups.

A lesbian asylum-seeker from Honduras told human rights workers that she was raped and assaulted in Ciudad Acuña, a Mexican city across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Human Rights First researchers who interviewed her this month said she was wearing a cast on her broken arm due to a recent attack.

Other migrants reported being victimized by cartels and other criminals in dangerous Mexican border towns soon after being expelled there under a Trump-era coronavirus-related emergency policy the Biden administration has maintained.

A mother from El Salvador and her 7-year-old son reported being kidnapped in Reynosa immediately after U.S. agents expelled them to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. A Guatemalan mother said she was raped in Ciudad Juárez after being expelled there alongside her 5-year-old daughter. 

An indigenous father from Honduras reported being kidnapped and separated from his 5-year-old son after being expelled to Reynosa, Mexico. After trying to enter the U.S. a second time, they were expelled again, according to the report. 

Kennji Kizuka, a Human Rights First research director who visited northern Mexico earlier this summer to conduct interviews for Tuesday's report, said there was a "pervasive air of violence and fear" among migrant communities there.

"The Biden administration had pledged to create a more humane and orderly process for people to seek asylum in the United States and in how migrants at the border are treated — and that's just not happening," Kizuka said. "It's the opposite of that. This is cruel and harmful."

A young boy rests next to a long line of people waiting for clothes, food and supplies in a makeshift migrant camp in the border town of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico on July 10, 2021.  PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Tuesday's report also described a growing number of people living in makeshift migrant tent camps in Mexican cities like Tijuana, Matamoros and Reynosa, where an encampment in the city's central plaza is housing thousands of migrants.

The U.S. government instructs Americans to reconsider traveling to Tijuana due to rampant crime, including homicides. It also warns Americans not to visit the state of Tamaulipas, where Matamoros and Reynosa are located, citing the threat of being kidnapped and violent clashes between cartels.

The ballooning list of attacks against migrants in Mexico is likely to fuel more criticism of the Biden administration's decision to keep former President Donald Trump's border expulsions policy. Advocates have said the policy violates domestic and international refugee law because it bars migrants from seeking asylum.

But the Biden administration has said the emergency policy, which is authorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is still needed to reduce overcrowding inside migrant holding sites and curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

After relying on a Trump-era CDC order for months, the Biden administration published earlier this summer its own public health rationale for the migrant expulsions. Citing the Delta variant and a sharp increase in migration, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky left the policy in place indefinitely.

Last month, U.S. agents along the Mexican border stopped migrants 212,000 times, a 21-year record. More than 95,000 of those encounters led to migrants being expelled under the CDC edict, according to government data.

The unusually high migration levels during the hot summer months have alarmed Biden administration officials, who have responded by employing enforcement measures that migrant advocates have criticized in the past.

This summer, U.S. officials started using expulsion flights to send Central American families and adults to southern Mexico, a move condemned by the United Nations. Other migrant families are now being placed in fast-tracked deportation proceedings and swiftly deported to Central America if they are deemed to be ineligible for U.S. refuge.

U.S. officials also resumed a controversial practice of flying migrants across the southern border so they can be expelled to different parts of Mexico. Under another initiative, those who cross the U.S. border more than once could be criminally charged and prosecuted.

The new measures to deter migrants from trekking north signify a marked shift in the Biden administration's earlier border strategy, which focused on expediting the processing of unaccompanied children and reversing Trump-era asylum policies.

While advocates have condemned the new policies, Republicans have continued to accuse the Biden administration of fueling the current surge in border crossings by rescinding several Trump-era restrictions, including a program that required 70,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings.

The Biden administration has allowed 13,000 migrants previously subjected to the "Remain in Mexico" policy, which was largely dormant during the coronavirus pandemic, to continue their asylum cases inside the U.S.

In addition to the criticism, Mr. Biden's border policies face significant legal hurdles.

Unless the Supreme Court agrees to continue its suspension of a lower court order, the Biden administration could be required to reinstate the Remain in Mexico rule, which a federal judge ruled had been illegally terminated. 

In a separate court case, the American Civil Liberties Union is asking a federal judge to block the government from expelling migrant families with children under the CDC pandemic order. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who has previously ruled against the expulsions, is set to issue a decision any day now.

In July, 14% of the migrant parents and children taken into U.S. border custody as families were expelled to Mexico. The rest of the families were allowed to continue their immigration cases in the U.S.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.