Wednesday, January 19, 2022

US to resume waiting for asylum seekers in Mexico

SAN DIEGO (AP) – Migrants wishing to enter the United States will have to stay in Mexico again as they await immigration hearings as the Biden administration reluctantly announced plans to adopt Trump-era policies and agreed to Mexico’s terms to resume them on Thursday …

The resurgence of the “stay in Mexico” policy is taking place even as the Biden administration tries to end it in a way that will survive through the courts. President Joe Biden backed out of the policy, but a Texas and Missouri lawsuit forced him to bring it back into effect, subject to Mexico’s consent.

Mexico’s foreign minister said that in light of the US concessions, Mexico will allow a return, which is expected to begin next week, “for humanitarian reasons and for temporary stay.”

Mexico’s conditions include COVID-19 vaccinations for migrants, increased protection in dangerous Mexican border towns, better access to lawyers, and faster handling of cases.

Some 70,000 asylum seekers are subject to a policy introduced by President Donald Trump in January 2019 and suspended by Biden on his first day in office.

Illegal border crossings have dropped sharply after Mexico, faced with the threat of Trump’s tariff hikes, agreed to swiftly expand the policy in 2019. Asylum seekers fell victim to massive violence while waiting in Mexico and faced many legal obstacles such as access to lawyers and case information.

The migrants are expected to return starting Monday in one border town that has not been identified. This will ultimately be done in seven locations: San Diego and Calexico, California; Nogales, Arizona; and the Texas border towns of Brownsville, Eagle Pass, El Paso and Laredo.

WATCH: ACLU: Biden administration apologizes for not changing Trump-era asylum policies

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it was acting in accordance with a court order, but secretary Alejandro Mallorcas believes the policy “has endemic flaws, imposes unnecessary human costs, diverts resources and personnel from other priority efforts, and does not eliminate the root. reasons for illegal migration ”.

“Deeply flawed,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday when describing the policy. “We are working on implementation in accordance with the court order,” she said.

The double announcements follow intense discussions between the US and Mexico after US District Judge Matthew Kaksmarik, appointed by Trump in Amarillo, Texas, ordered the reinstatement of policy, subject to Mexico’s involvement.

The new version of the policy, laid out for journalists by Biden administration officials who have pledged not to be named, includes important additions and changes demanded by Mexico.

All migrants covered by this policy will be vaccinated against COVID-19. Adults will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one shot. Children who are eligible under US guidelines will receive the Pfizer vaccine, and the second vaccines will be given when they arrive in the US for their first hearing.

The US will try to complete the cases within 180 days, in response to Mexico’s fears that they will cease to exist. The Justice Department assigns 22 immigration judges to work exclusively on these cases.

The US government will ask migrants if they fear returning to Mexico, rather than relying on them to voice their concerns freely. If migrants express concerns, they will be screened and have 24 hours to find a lawyer or representative.

The Biden administration is working to ensure the safety of migrants when traveling to and from courts, including within Mexico. Migrants returning from Laredo and Brownsville, where Mexican border cities are particularly dangerous, will be relocated to more remote areas of Mexico.

The policy will apply to migrants from Western Hemisphere countries. US officials did not say how many will be processed on a daily basis. The administration has maintained another Trump-era policy that allows it to return Central Americans to Mexico on the basis of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Migrants will have the opportunity to meet with lawyers before each hearing. The Department of State is working with Mexico on video and telephone access locations for lawyers in the United States.

The changes reflect many of the conditions that Mexico put forward last week. Mexico also stated that “vulnerable” people should be released, including unaccompanied children, pregnant women, physically or mentally ill people, the elderly, indigenous people and members of the LGBT community.

“The Mexican government reaffirms its commitment to migrant rights and safe, orderly and regular migration,” Mexico’s foreign minister said Thursday in a statement confirming that the country has accepted the changes and additions to the Biden administration.

Blas Nunez-Neto, acting assistant secretary of national security for border and immigration policy, said in court on Thursday that the administration shares Mexico’s concerns.

Mexico is also seeking money from the United States for shelters and other organizations to dramatically increase support for migrants waiting in Mexico.

Many US-based legal aid groups that have represented asylum seekers waiting in Mexico have said they will no longer try such cases, raising questions about how the US can meet Mexico’s demands for better access to a lawyer. Administration officials say they think there are enough other lawyers to represent asylum seekers sent back to Mexico.

Many immigration advocates say this policy cannot be reversed.

“The stay in Mexico policy was a humanitarian disaster when it was first implemented, and it is destined to be so again,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First, who has documented the violence against asylum seekers. during the time they waited in Mexico.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last month, a judge denied his request to say the Biden administration was violating a court order.

Paxton and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt called on the judge to force the federal government to “fulfill its responsibilities by following the plan they followed previously.”

“Objectively unreasonable delays in the implementation of even a part (of a policy) demonstrate their dishonesty,” they wrote.

Associated Press author Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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