Two years ago, President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy burst into the news with scenes of children crying after they were ripped from their parents’ arms, forever traumatized by what Physicians for Human Rights described as torture.

After a steady stream of headlines, pressure from lawmakers, and a still-ongoing lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the Trump administration scaled back the zero-tolerance policy.

There are many reasons this story rightly received a lot of attention. One of them is that much of the abuse happened on American soil. A lesson the administration likely learned from the child-separation debacle was that if abuse, trauma, and suffering happen to immigrants outside of the United States, it’s likely to get far less notice.

Enter the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols or “remain in Mexico” policy, which forces vulnerable asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while they wait for hearings on their asylum claims. This policy pushes immigrants into Mexico, where the administration knows full-well they could be robbed, kidnapped, beaten, and assaulted in a country that is unable to adequately protect them.

Last month the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the MPP policy. The case was filed on behalf of seven asylum-seekers who are stranded in dangerous conditions in Mexico as well as their relatives living in New York. Among other claims, it argues that the government lacked the authority to return our clients to Mexico because immigration agents found them in the United States.

This week, the plaintiffs asked the court to grant immediate preliminary relief by ordering their return to the United States. 

These are asylum-seekers fleeing to America, hoping our country will protect them. The Trump administration is ensuring they are put back in harm’s way.

Trump is hoping the torturous conditions he’s putting people in will make them give up on trying to win asylum.

The plaintiffs in Mexico have been in constant fear for their lives and experienced kidnappings, threats, and assault while in Mexico. But because this cruelty is happening outside our country, it’s harder to track and expose.

One plaintiff, a transgender woman, was sent back to Mexico despite the well-documented deadly conditions for transgender women there. The U.S. Department of State acknowledges that more than half of LGBTI persons in Mexico reportedly have suffered hate speech and physical aggression.

The plaintiff – identified in the suit as Jane Doe – was robbed before she crossed the border into the U.S. in October 2019. After that, she was apprehended by Customs and Border Protection Officers and told she would have to return to Mexico.

Ms. Doe was sent back to Matamoros, Mexico without any money or a place to live. She begged for food and slept on the street without as much as a blanket for several days.

Eventually, she began living in an encampment with other asylum-seekers, where she was routinely insulted, humiliated, and threatened. The abuse continued to escalate until the spring of 2020, when several men severely assaulted Ms. Doe. She’s spent nearly a year in Mexico, without a single hearing in her case.

The MPP is a transparent effort to deny asylum-seekers the protection of the law, which not only guarantees that everyone can apply for asylum, but also expressly forbids sending people to countries where they will be persecuted.

The Trump administration has constantly attacked and undermined these laws based on racist stereotypes about Latin American countries. And now Trump is using this rule to deny protections for nearly all immigrants appearing at the border.

When the protocols were first introduced in 2018, the administration claimed the policy “is restoring integrity to the system” by allowing asylum-seekers to expeditiously prosecute claims for asylum while providing for their safety and security. But in reality, Trump is hoping the torturous conditions he’s putting people in will make them give up on trying to win asylum.

And the administration knows that most of the abuse people suffer in Mexico as a result of the policy will escape the media spotlight.