Migrants seeking asylum in U.S. may have to wait for months in Mexico

Migrants seeking asylum wait in Mexico

Tijuana, Mexico — The secretary of Homeland Security says the Trump administration is responding to the immigration crisis like it's a "Cat 5 hurricane disaster." Kirstjen Nielsen said that includes possibly shutting down the southern border, or sending in troops to stop a surge of migrants seeking asylum.

The administration has implemented what's known as the "Remain in Mexico" program, which means migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. are being told to wait in Mexico. 

Among them are 19-year-old Angel and 29-year-old Jose, who are from Honduras and living in a church in Mexico with more than 40 other men, women and children. Their attorney asked CBS News to change their names to protect their identity. 

Angel said that back in Honduras, he was the target of local gangs. He showed CBS News police reports alleging they were under threat. Jose asked how can he return to his home country when his life is at risk. 

But he said he's not safe in Tijuana, either. It's one of the most dangerous cities in the Western Hemisphere and more violent than any city in Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador. Tijuana had more than 2,000 murders last year. Last year, two young Honduran migrants were murdered here after leaving a shelter.  

Mexican officials said at least 500 migrants, including families, are among the asylum seekers sent back to Mexico.

The Trump administration said they need to expand the "Remain in Mexico" program because of a dramatic surge in the numbers of asylum seekers to the U.S., which they say is overwhelming the system. But the program is the subject of federal litigation. Critics argue it violates international law, denies migrants due process and places them in danger in Mexico. 

Secretary of Homeland Security Nielsen said it's important for another reason.

"They will not be able to disappear into the United States," she said.

But 2017 Justice Department numbers show the majority of these migrants did not disappear. Of the more than 43,000 asylum cases processed last year, almost 90 percent of the applicants showed up to their court hearing. With a backlog of over 800,000 asylum cases now pending in the U.S., Angel and Jose might have to wait in Mexico for months.  

They said they want to come into the U.S. legally. They don't want to climb over any walls. But if not, they'll have to find another way in. 

Angel and Jose's American dream is right across the border, but their legal journey is just beginning.