Pregnant women seeking asylum in peril after ‘remain in Mexico’ policy: Part 1

“Nightline” speaks to a desperate mother-to-be who must stay in Mexico until her asylum hearing, due to the new policy. She’s among thousands of migrants forced to live in camps overrun by cartels.
10:10 | 12/19/19

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Transcript for Pregnant women seeking asylum in peril after ‘remain in Mexico’ policy: Part 1
"Remain in Mexico" mandate took effect. Reporter: For melissa, cooking a hot meal for her family is a pleasure. She's five months pregnant and the cravings are kicking in. It's a traditional Honduran meal, cooked on a stove made from the mud around them. It reminds her of just how far she is from home. Melissa, her husband armando and their 9-year-old daughter, who asked us not to use their real names, say they've had no choice but to spend the last three months living in this squalid camp, a stone's throw from the United States. We've been on the ground for more than a year, charting the human toll of a changing immigration system. Tonight, we take you inside the asylum debate. With a top trump administration official, a whistleblower, who quit in protest, and those fighting for thousands stuck at the border. In less than a year, changes in immigration policy called --- migrant protection protocols have pushed --- 60,000 asylum seekers to "Remain in Mexico," leaving them vulnerable, often in dangerous areas. This sprawling camp of 1,500 just one of several that have popped up along the southern border. Melissa was told that living here was endangering her pregnancy. She is one of 18 pregnant women named in a complaint filed by the aclu against the department of homeland security, It's particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Rochelle garza is a lawyer with the aclu Most of these women are living on the streets. They don't have access to adequate food, water, medical care. Melissa says back in Honduras her husband, armando, was doing well, as a waiter, but when he was beaten and targeted by gangs , they knew they had to run. Your lives were threatened? Si. They fled with just a little cash and three duffle bags, and when they arrived on the Texas border, they asked for asylum, which is their legal right. In the past, they would've been allowed to stay in the u.s. And wait for their hearing. Instead, u.s. Immigration officials gave them a court date and sent them back to wait in Mexico. The biggest loophole drawing illegal aliens to our borders is the use of fraudulent or meritless asylum claims to gain entry into our great country. Since taking office, the trump administration has tried to slow the number of migrants coming into the u.s. With a series of controversial policies. They are limiting artificially the number of people who can cross. It's called "Metering" and has spawned migrant camps in tijuana, south of San Diego. Last year, we saw the first impacts of that metering program here in matamoros. With the latest policy change, that once small encampment has ballooned, now housing thousands, spread out along the banks of the rio grande. How long have you been here? How did you get here? The river becomes one of the only ways for a mother like belquis to keep her two kids clean. Pieces of wood and fabric, the only privacy for bathrooms. But for many, the dangers outside the camp haunt the most. Tens of thousands have been sent back where they have no choice but to live in these makeshift camps. Many are subjected to kidnapping, assault, exttion, even death. What's happening here is nothing short of a manmade humanitarian crisis. Melissa and her family know the dangers intimately. They say they were held for ransom by a Mexican cartel for ten days, while crossing north through Mexico. She says her sister, who lives in Ohio, had to negotiate with the kidnappers and eventually wired thousands of dollars to secure their release. What precautions have you taken to try to keep your family safe? The camps are overrun by the cartels. They traffic in humans. They're known as the kings of the river. Are you afraid that you give birth here at the camp? Just across the river, Brownsville native rochelle has spent years practicing immigration law. It is deterrence by cruelty. I never would have envisioned having to drive to a tent court to assist any client. She's on her way to represent one of the pregnant asylum seekers, but her client has gone missing. I interviewed her sometime in September but then lost contact. I haven't I haven't been able to locate her for the last at least the last couple of weeks. Hoping her client appears, rochelle heads inside to plead her case. Behind all that concertina wire is a trump administration experiment. Tent courthouses where judges teleconference in from around the country. But in the past these immigration hearings were open to the public. But these facilities are often restricted, even to attorneys. Several hours later, rochelle walks out. My client wasn't there after all. So we, you know, we made every attempt we could to find her, and I have hopes that maybe she may still be able to make it to this court hearing. What was going on in your mind? Frustration, anger, all of it because -- I mean my hope is to see if we can locate her. I don't know if she's given birth. I don't know if she's dead. I don't know if she's disappeared. I don't know anything about what happened to her. The trump administration touts the "Remain in Mexico" program as a success, citing the recent decline in unauthorized crossings. As acting deputy secretary at dhs, ken cuccinelli is responsible for u.s. Asylum policy Could you give us the goal of the migrant protection program? There's more than one goal. Will start with the top one is to quickly adjudicate a large number of claims at the border. That's one. Two is to not be releasing people into the interior of the United States. So they remain in Mexico. But you are sending pregnant women back to a country that your own state department categorizes as a level 4 threat. That is a no go zone for American travelers. So why is it -- That is just not correct. The advisory is that Americans should not travel. To certain parts of the country. To matamoros, which is precisely where you're sending these pregnant women. We spoke to a pregnant woman. No, they can go anywhere in Mexico, and these are people who've traveled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to get to our border. They can go anywhere in Mexico with work permits. Surely you understand that these people have no money, are fleeing for their lives and have nowhere to go and are desperate. They are fleeing persecution and documented cases of danger, credible threats to their lives, and you're placing them back in a place where they have nowhere to go. You are presuming they're being placed in a point and they're not. They're allowed to go anywhere in Mexico with work or the right to work, which is something they don't get immediately in the United States until their claims are adjudicated. After waiting for three months at that matamoras camp, melissa's family is ready for their court date. Rochelle once again waiting on the other side. Best case scenario, they're parole, and they're allowed to walk through those gates and we can help them on their way. Worst case scenario would be for them to be returned to Mexico. When we come back, will melissa and her family be able to make it across? And we hear from a former asylum officer, now speaking out. If the goal is to keep everyone who's not white out of the United States, then it's

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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