US Begins Admitting Asylum Seekers Blocked by Trump

Henrietta Strickland
February 20, 2021

Twenty-five migrants who had been forced to stay in Mexico crossed the United States border in San Diego on Friday, the first group to arrive in the country as part of the Biden administration's rollback of a controversial Trump-era policy, according to a source with knowledge of the process.

The program, known as the "Remain-in-Mexico" policy and agreed to with Mexico, was a key component of the Trump administration's efforts to curb the 2019 border crisis and end "catch-and-release" - by which migrants were released into the U.S.to await their hearings.

Hundreds of migrants signed up on Friday within hours of the launch of a U.N. website that allows migrants with active cases to register remotely to be processed at the U.S. -Mexico border, said Mark Manly, a representative in Mexico for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The agreements allowed federal immigration officials to quickly return migrants to their native countries when they had passed through a country with a robust asylum process in favor of traveling to the U.S.

The administration estimates that only 25,000 people out of the more than 65,000 enrolled in MPP still have active immigration court cases and is set to begin processing that group on Friday.

Asylum seekers make their way towards the U.S. in the Mexican border city of Mexicali in 2018.

The Biden administration is requiring all migrants to test negative for the coronavirus at staging locations in Mexico before being allowed into the U.S. Asylum-seekers who test positive will need to isolate in Mexico for 10 days. It's also unclear how long it will take to work through all the cases, with the oldest going first. But critics claimed it was cruel and created to close the border - pointing also to squalid conditions in camps set up on the Mexican side of the border.

Asylum seekers mainly from Central America used to be allowed to stay in the United States while their applications were being processed.

The U.S.is expected to release 25 people a day in San Diego who had been forced to wait in Mexico, said Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is playing a critical support role.

Biden officials say they expect eventually to process 300 people per day at two of the ports.

The U.S.is set to start processing more eligible asylum-seekers in the Texas' Rio Grande Valley on Monday and in El Paso later next week.

The US, Mexico and global organisations have scrambled in recent days to figure out how to register migrants online and by phone, transport them to the border, test them for Covid-19 and get them to their destinations in the US, people familiar with the effort said.

DHS has said asylum-seekers allowed into the US under the Remain-in-Mexico drawdown will generally not be sent to detention centers.

A coalition of nongovernmental groups called the San Diego Rapid Response Network will provide hotel rooms, arrange transportation and perform health screenings, Hopkins said. Jewish Family Service will buy bus or plane tickets if asylum-seekers can't afford them and winter clothes if needed.

"We'll make sure they are healthy and in good shape to travel", Hopkins said in an interview.

At a migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, several dozen asylum seekers lined up outside a makeshift school to register. Those whose cases were dismissed or denied are not eligible to return to the country, but USA officials have not ruled out some form of relief later.

The Biden administration is treading carefully, wary that the policy shift could encourage more migrants to trek to the US-Mexico border. It brought huge relief to those who are eligible, while US and United Nations officials urged against a rush to the border.

"It's insane here, everyone wants to cross already", said Oscar Borjas, a Honduran asylum seeker staffing the front desk. The site came online later in the day.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the initiative shows the administration's commitment to immigration reform, but added that, due to capacity constraints at the U.S. -Mexico border exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, change will take time. Their propane gas stove froze, she said.

Rivera was hopeful she would be allowed to come to the United States, where she could live with her sister in Los Angeles as her case wound through immigration court.

"When we put our feet down in San Ysidro, and we knew we had gotten there, we smiled from ear to ear", said Rosario, who is seeking political asylum and asked to be identified by her middle name for her safety.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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