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America Ferrera leads Tijuana migrant shelter visit, calls for changes to U.S. asylum policy

"Let me be clear: it is legal to seek asylum," said actress Kerry Washington, who was part of the group. "We must protect those human rights."
Image: America Ferrera speaks with migrants at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.
America Ferrera speaks with migrants at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.Arlene Mejorado

Actress America Ferrera and a group of actors and activists have spoken out against the Trump administration policy requiring migrants seeking asylum in the United States to have to wait in Mexico instead.

The actress led a group including Gina Rodríguez, Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington, Kendrick Sampson and Roselyn Sánchez to a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego. The group met with immigration lawyers and shelter managers, spent time with children and listened to families detail their journeys from Central America through Mexico seeking asylum.

Eva Longoria holds a baby while speaking to the mother at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.Arlene Mejorado

“It is easy for me to look at these human beings and see myself,” Ferrera told the Associated Press about the visit on Sunday. “This could very easily have been my reality in this lifetime,” said the actress, whose family is originally from Honduras.

Under the policy enacted by the Trump administration, U.S. border agents process only a handful of asylum requests per day. And even those who file for asylum are not allowed to wait in the U.S. while their immigration case is pending; they have remain in Mexico until the process is fully over, which could take months or years.

A group of actors and actresses, including America Ferrera, Kerry Washington, and Eva Longoria, traveled to the Mexican border to visit with migrants in a shelter in Tijuana.Arlene Mejorado

The slow process has clogged the U.S. immigration system by creating case backlogs and overcrowding shelters in Mexican border towns. Most shelters can only accommodate a few dozen migrants at a time, even though thousands of Central American families, mainly women and children, have recently made the journey north, citing violence and poverty as their main reasons for leaving.

"We were able to bear witness to how the current administration is treating refugee families. We MUST demand better," Washington, who is known for her starring role in the ABC TV show "Scandal," said in an Instagram post. "Let me be clear: it is legal to seek asylum. When people cross our borders, their human rights come with them. We must protect those human rights."

The group went with the nonprofit advocacy groups Families Belong Together and Harness — an organization started by Ferrera, Wilmer Valderrama and Ryans Piers, who also attended the trip.

"These families need our help," tweeted actress Roselyn Sánchez, best known for her roles as Elena Delgado on CBS' "Without a Trace" and as Carmen Luna on the Lifetime comedy-drama Devious Maids.

Jessica Morales Rocketto, who heads the group Families Belong Together, said one of the migrants they spoke to has been waiting with her toddler since November to apply for asylum.

“People get to the border and think that’s the end of the journey, but it’s only the beginning,” Morales Rocketto said.

"As a result of this administration’s cruel Remain in Mexico policy, families are being forced to stay in Mexico for months while they wait for a fair chance to seek asylum. They rely on the goodwill of shelters like the one we visited yesterday for a roof to sleep under, food, water, and other basic needs," Sánchez said on Instagram. "This is a humanitarian crisis, right at our border."

Nara Milanich, professor of modern Latin American history at Barnard College, told NBC News in a previous interview that migrants don’t have to enter the U.S. through an authorized port of entry in order to seek asylum.

While many reports of authorities turning away migrants at the border have surfaced over the past months, Milanich explains that this practice “violates the laws that protect them.”

“Turning people away at a port of entry, often times brings illegality,” said Milanich, who is also an expert witness and an interpreter in political asylum cases through the CARA Pro Bono Project. She explained this practice essentially pushes migrants into the edge of desperation — sometimes opting to not cross through an authorized port of entry, which is one of the safest ways to get to the U.S.

Ferrera, who stars in the NBC TV show "Superstore," has spoken out for migrants in the past but said the urge to speak louder intensified after images of U.S. officials separating migrant children from their parents emerged last year.

She spoke of holding her newborn last year and thinking, “How dire would my situation have to be to grab this brand new child and walk for a month, with no access to clean water and food, not knowing what I would meet along the way, to try and seek asylum and safety and refuge because my situation was so bad?”

The visit to Tijuana was meant to educate those who went so they can better engage and influence on an issue that matters to them, Ferrera said.


Associated Press contributed.