Wednesday, January 19, 2022

US to resume waiting for asylum seekers in Mexico

SAN DIEGO (AP) – The Biden administration has struck an agreement with Mexico to reinstate next week the Trump-era border policy that keeps asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for a U.S. immigration court hearing, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The resurgence of the “stay in Mexico” policy comes at a court order, even as the administration tries to end it in a way that will survive through the courts. President Joe Biden reversed the policy, but Texas and Missouri lawsuits forced him to bring it back into action.

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 and shortly thereafter in three others. These are the crossings of San Diego and Texas to El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville. The sequence has not yet been determined.

Thursday’s announcement follows intense bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico after U.S. District Judge Matthew Kaksmarik, Trump-appointed in Amarillo, Texas, ordered the reinstatement of policy, subject to Mexico’s involvement.

The new version of the policy, laid out for journalists by administration officials who have made a condition that they will not 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 endeavor to complete the cases within 180 days. 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 they 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.

Migrants from Western Hemisphere countries will be eligible to participate. 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. These features reflect many of the conditions laid down by Mexico.

It 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.

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

Nation World News Desk
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