Julián Castro Slams Trump’s “Deranged” Immigration Policies After Escorting Asylum Seekers to Border

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On Monday, 2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro escorted a dozen asylum seekers to the U.S. port of entry at Brownsville, Texas, in a challenge to President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. The group included a disabled Salvadoran woman and her relatives, as well as nine LGBTQ people from Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of them report they’ve been threatened and assaulted while they’ve been forced to wait in the Mexican border city of Matamoros. The asylum seekers were refused entry into the United States. Castro speaks with us from San Antonio, where he served as mayor from 2009 to 2014.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Democratic presidential candidate and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro. On Monday, he escorted a dozen asylum seekers to the U.S. port of entry at Brownsville, Texas, in a challenge to President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. The group included a disabled Salvadoran woman and her relatives, as well as nine LGBTQ people from Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of them report they’ve been threatened and assaulted while they’ve been forced to wait in the Mexican border city of Matamoros. The asylum seekers were refused entry into the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: On Twitter, Julián Castro wrote, quote, “By law, these migrants are supposed to be exempt from the Remain in Mexico policy—but @CBP [Customs and Border Protection] had decided to ignore their due process. Outrageous.”

Julián Castro joins us now from San Antonio, the city where he served as mayor from 2009 to 2014, now attempting to become the first Latino president of the United States.

Secretary Castro, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you tell us exactly what you did this week?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Yeah. Good morning. Thanks for having me.

So, I was invited by the Texas Civil Rights Project, that works with migrants who are seeking asylum and who have been caught up in the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy — technically called the Migrant Protection Protocol policy — which has them claim asylum here, and then sends them to wait in Mexico while their asylum claim is adjudicated. I had been asked to visit Matamoros, on the other side of Brownsville, Texas, because you have about a thousand people who are there, who — most of whom are seeking asylum, waiting for their court dates, that are caught up in this “Remain in Mexico” policy.

And we wanted to highlight especially the claims of members of the LGBTQ community and also one person who is disabled. She’s deaf. We were highlighting them specifically because under the terms of the “Remain in Mexico” policy itself, somebody with a physical issue or mental health trauma is supposed to be exempted. In other words, they’re supposed to be allowed to remain in the United States while their claim is adjudicated, instead of being sent back to Mexico. These members of the LGBTQ community, they have been persecuted. They’ve been subjected to violence. They’ve been threatened. They’re suffering trauma and, some of them, PTSD. And so, we believe that they should qualify for that exemption because of the mental health trauma they’re going through. And the person who is deaf has a physical disability, a physical issue. She never should have been put in that program in the first place.

And let me just say, you know, when I went over there, as I mentioned, there are over a thousand people. They’re all living in tents. They told me, to a person, that they don’t have clean water to drink, that a lot of the kids there are sick. I saw children as young as 12 days old, a baby that was 12 days old. They’re living basically in a field that’s right near the river, the Rio Grande river, and right next to the border station. So, these are people who are in desperate circumstances, living in unsanitary conditions, in squalor, not knowing what’s going to happen to them, and pleading for help.

We took these 12 individuals to present to the Border Patrol agents, CBP. And they were eventually interviewed, and then they were all sent back. They were all denied any kind of relief under the exemption in the MPP policy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Secretary Castro, I wanted to ask you, because, obviously, Mexico has to participate in this “Remain in Mexico” policy. And I don’t know if you saw the op-ed piece that Jorge Ramos, the co-anchor of the national Univision News had in The New York Times this week, where he said Mexico may not be paying for the wall, the Trump wall, but Mexico has effectively become the wall and is participating in this attempt of President Trump to prevent more people from coming into the country. I’m wondering about your sense of the Mexican policy under President López Obrador?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Yeah, I did not see that op-ed, but I think that Jorge puts it very well there, that — you know, that this was something that Mexico agreed to. And to me, that was surprising, given the history of López Obrador and what I thought he would stand for and do once he was in office.

The other thing that’s been a concern is that, you know, of course, for the municipality, for Matamoros and for the state government there, they do have a responsibility to help make sure that these individuals are safe, that they’re living in sanitary conditions. I was told by one person on the other side of the border that the city is trying to do something, but trying to get folks to move to a different part of the community, of the city, where they’re trying to — they’ve tried to establish more sanitary conditions and better living conditions. I don’t know whether that’s accurate or not — it may well be accurate — but that there’s a hesitancy among the migrants there because of the lack of safety in other parts of the community. And, you know, they feel like they want to be there, of course, near the Border Patrol station, when they have their hearing, or there’s just this sense of being close to the United States. And so they’ve been hesitant to go to that other place that may have been established by the city for them to be at.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you demanding of the president right now?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Well, he should end this policy. If I were elected president, I would immediately end this “Remain in Mexico” policy. It flies in the face of the United States policy of allowing people who are making a claim of asylum to remain in the United States while their claim is adjudicated.

So we need to do a couple things. Number one, we need to end this policy and allow people to remain in the safety of the United States. Secondly, and just as importantly, we actually need to create an independent immigration court system, that’s independent from the Department of Justice, with enough judges and support staff to hear these asylum claims and get people an answer in a timely manner. Some people will get asylum. We also know that some people will not. But people should not be waiting years to get an answer on their asylum claim.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about The New York Times report recently reporting President Trump privately pushed for shooting migrants and for creating a, quote, “water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators,” along the U.S.-Mexico border; the Times also detailing how Trump has privately proposed other radical measures to curtail immigration, including closing the entire U.S.-Mexico border and building an electrified border wall topped with spikes to pierce human flesh; the Times revealing Trump has repeatedly raised the idea of shooting migrants during staff meetings; the paper reporting, “After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.” The Times article is based on the new book, Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, by the Times reporters Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis. Julián Castro, if you could respond?

JULIÁN CASTRO: I mean, that’s the product of a deranged mind right there. What else can we say about that, except that’s an individual with a deranged mind and, obviously, a lot of hate toward these migrants? And, you know, this is the caliber of person that’s sitting in the Oval Office right now. It’s just one more example of why he should not be president of the United States, somebody who is not only hateful, but who is so divorced from reality that he would, on multiple occasions, bring up the idea of shooting people. It makes no sense.

I hope that more and more Americans are paying attention to the depravity of this president and the cruelty that he’s inflicted on people that are simply seeking a better life. And that’s consistent with people from different places all over the world that have come seeking a better life, who have come from desperate circumstances throughout the generations. And so, this is nothing new in our country’s history or the history of the world.

And my hope is that this president is going to be held to account for what he’s done in terms of violating his oath of office and abusing his power, that he will be impeached, that he will be removed from office. If he is not impeached and removed, he’s going to be defeated on November 3rd, 2020, and that this nightmare, with respect to how he’s treating migrants, will be over.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Secretary Castro, I wanted to ask you also, because the president often talks about how he’s opposed to people coming into the country illegally, but the reality is that his policies in terms of even legal immigration are dramatically different from past policy. I think the Census Bureau is reporting we had the lowest number of legal immigrants admitted into the country, just a couple hundred thousand compared to an average of about a million a year in many past years, the reduction in refugee admissions, the clampdown on asylum requests. Could you talk about his policy toward legal immigration?

JULIÁN CASTRO: Yeah. You know, sometimes it makes some folks feel good when they can say, “Well, you know, I’m not really against, or the president is not really against immigration; he’s against undocumented immigrants, or so-called illegal immigrants.” But as you point out, clearly, this is an assault on all immigrants, undocumented and documented. This public charge rule that they’ve proposed, that would essentially chill legal immigrants from participating in American life, the cutbacks to the number of refugees that we’ll accept, also this asylum policy that has been tightened, this “Remain in Mexico” policy, that would deal with potential asylees — in all of these ways, the president has sought to curtail legal immigration. So, at the bottom of this is truly a vision of America that looks like Donald Trump. That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s trying to create. And so, people should not fool themselves.

What I believe is that our diversity in this country makes us strong, that we can harness the potential of immigrants, and that, for generations, immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have made this country stronger, have powered our economy, have helped ensure that we continue to move forward as a nation. And that’s going to continue to be the case in the future. And I believe that we should increase the number of people that we’re taking in as refugees and asylees, and that we should put undocumented immigrants who are here in the United States on a pathway to citizenship, as long as they have not committed a serious crime here in the United States. That’s what I would do as president.

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