Advocates use phone apps to keep in touch with ‘Remain in Mexico’ clients amid travel restrictions

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WhatsApp is preferred means of communication, though some lawyers still venture across the border

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Some migrant advocates in El Paso are using telephone apps to keep in touch with clients in Mexico until the COVID-19 related travel restrictions are lifted.

Representatives of a number of law firms and legal assistance centers here used to walk over into Juarez, Mexico to meet with clients in the “Remain in Mexico” program — formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols — but some have stopped doing so during the health emergency.

“Our office has gone remote. It’s the best we can do right now but it’s never a substitution for meeting your client face to face,” said Linda Rivas, executive director for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

The center uses videoconferencing when available (the government of Juarez has set up an office with laptops about a block away from the Paso del Norte port of entry) and has a list of telephone numbers their clients in the MPP program have access to in Mexico.

“We have their WhatsApp number. It’s not the most reliable because some people don’t have any money so they can’t refill the phone with minutes or have the ability to make phone calls. We can’t always contact our clients because of their limitations in Juarez,” she added.

Almost 21,000 asylum seekers in the El Paso area have been placed in MPP since last year. The U.S. government has suspended most immigration courts, but as of last week had not suspended MPP. El Diario newspaper in Juarez as recently as Sunday documented the return of asylum seekers from custody in El Paso, some of them wearing surgical masks.

However, one El Paso lawyer who continues to help her clients across the border said they tell her the MPP court is in recess until Thursday. “No one has been allowed to cross for their MPP hearings this morning in Juarez/El Paso. They have been given nothing by (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), only told to come back Thursday,'” Taylor Levy tweeted.

Rivas and Levy are urging the U.S. government to stop sending asylum seekers to Mexico, then expect them to come back to court in El Paso, during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead, they call on the government to allow the asylum seekers to go through the entire process in the United States, where many have families they can stay with.

“Right now the constant back and forth of people coming into MPP court and then returning them to Mexico puts everyone at risk. The fact that MPP continues is unsafe and unfair,” Rivas said. “Our big ask is that these people are allowed in and seek refuge with their families. Right now being with our families is of the utmost importance for all of us and it should be the same for migrants as well.”

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