SAN DIEGO (AP) – The Biden administration announced plans Friday for tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have been forced to wait in Mexico under a Trump-era policy to enter the United States while their cases go through immigration courts. .
The first wave of approximately 25,000 asylum seekers with active cases in the “Remain in Mexico” program he will be allowed to enter the United States on February 19, authorities said. They plan to start slowly, with two border crossings each processing up to 300 people per day and a third crossing taking fewer numbers.
President Joe Biden’s administration declined to publicly identify the three crossings for fear it could fuel a flood of people, but U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas, said officials told him they are Brownsville and El Paso in Texas, and San Diego’s San Ysidro Crossing.
The move is an important step toward dismantling one of former President Donald Trump’s most important policies to deter asylum seekers from coming to the U.S. About 70,000 asylum seekers signed up for the program officially called the Protocols of migrant protection since it was presented in January 2019.
On Biden’s first day in office, the Department of Homeland Security suspended the policy for newcomers. Since then, some asylum seekers detained at the border have been released in the United States with notices to appear in court.
Biden is swiftly fulfilling a campaign promise to end the policy, which the Trump administration said was critical to reversing the surge in asylum seekers that peaked in 2019. But the policy also exposed people to violence. in the Mexican border cities and made it extremely difficult to find attorneys and communicate with the courts about their cases.
“As President Biden has made clear, the United States government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly and humane immigration system,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values.”
Asylum seekers will be released with notices to appear in court in nearby cities or at their final destinations, usually with relatives, administration officials said.
Homeland Security said the measure “should not be construed as an opportunity for people to migrate irregularly to the United States.” Administration officials say the vast majority of people who cross the border illegally are quickly expelled under a public health order that Trump implemented in March amid the coronavirus pandemic. But some asylum-seeking families have been released in Texas and California, working against that message.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that she was concerned that limited releases in the United States could encourage others to cross illegally.
“We do not want people to put themselves in danger at a time when it is not the right time to come, because we have not had time to put in place a human and moral system and process,” he said.
Court hearings for people registered in “Remain in Mexico” have been suspended since June due to the pandemic. Communicating when to report to the border for release into the United States can be a daunting job.
Homeland Security said it would soon announce a “virtual registration process” online and over the phone so people know where and when to report. He urged asylum seekers not to show up at the border unless instructed to do so.
The International Organization for Migration will help with logistics and screen asylum seekers for COVID-19 before they enter the United States, spokeswoman Liz Lizama said. The director of the UN migration agency in Mexico, Dana Graber Ladek, said that he will seek to inform asylum seekers across the country about eligibility.
The announcement does not provide relief to people whose cases were dismissed or denied, although administration officials did not rule out additional measures. Advocates argue that communication problems, including the lack of work addresses in Mexico, caused some people to lose hearings and, as a result, lose their cases.
Mexico agreed to accept more asylum seekers in June 2019 to defuse Trump’s threats to increase tariffs. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador welcomed Biden’s changes and said at a press conference Friday that it would be “good” for the United States to embrace them as their cases move through the system.
The Remain in Mexico releases will come as illegal border crossings are stopped since Biden took office, defying the administration in its early days.
Raúl Ortiz, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, said Tuesday that more than 3,000 people had been detained in each of the previous 10 days, compared with a daily average of 2,426 in January.
About 50 to 80 adults and children have been arriving daily since Jan. 27 at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which is temporarily home to people released by the Border Patrol, said Sister Norma Pimentel, the group’s executive director. The charity tests for COVID-19 and sends anyone who tests positive to a hotel for isolation.
San Diego’s Jewish Family Service housed 191 asylum seekers the first 10 days of February after they were released, up from 144 in January and 54 in December, said Eitan Peled, the group’s border services advocate. They are quarantined in hotels for 10 days.
Associated Press writer María Verza in Mexico City contributed.