DHS Plan For Asylum Seekers Forced To ‘Remain in Mexico’ Only Works For Some

By Kendal Blust
Published: Friday, February 12, 2021 - 6:21pm
Updated: Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 10:31am

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Asylum seekers march
Kino Border Initiative
Dozens of asylum seekers and supporters marched to the border wall in Nogales, Sonora, on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, to ask the incoming administration to restore the right to asylum in the United States.

The Biden administration has announced plans to begin processing asylum seekers sent back to Mexico under a Trump era policy known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. Some asylum seekers may be able to enter the United States by the end of next week.

The Department of Homeland Security says on Feb. 19, it will begin allowing into the United States asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols.

"For the people who will qualify, this is a good thing," said Alex Mensing of Innovation Law Lab, who works with migrants in Tijuana. "There's definitely relief for finally some concrete information and details that we've been waiting for. And I am excited to see families actually in safety, which now sees not too far off, and that is heartening."

Many asylum seekers waiting south of the border are hopeful they are close to reaching safety in the United States, Mensing said. Some have spent as much as two years now living in precarious and dangerous situations in Mexico after fleeing their homes in search of protection in the United States.

Still, there are concerns about the plan's roll out.

"A very small segment of the population has been selected for a very slow processing," Mensing said.

The Biden administration has said it expects to eventually be able to process about 300 asylum seekers per day at three ports of entry. And about 25,000 people enrolled in MPP with active cases will eligible of some 70,000 asylum seekers who have been sent back to Mexico as part of the program since it was implemented in January 2019.

The plan also doesn't address thousands of other migrants who are still unable to even start asylum claims because of other Trump era policies still in effect.

One of those is known as Title 42, which has allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants to be expelled and turned away since March under the guise of public health. The Biden administration has said that policy will stay in place for now.

Among those who will still be unable to access the asylum system are thousands of people from Haiti and countries in Africa, very few of whom were ever enrolled in MPP, Mensing said.

"So what that means is by prioritizing exclusively open MPP cases, they are essentially leaving Black migrants and asylum seekers out. Which is completely unjustifiable," he said.

In its Thursday release, DHS emphasized that the plan not a loosening of border restrictions, and said those who are not eligible "should wait for further instructions."

"This announcement should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate irregularly to the United States," the statement said, adding that those in the MPP program should also remain in place and will be able to access "virtual registration" from any location.

"Once registered, eligible individuals will be provided additional information about where and when to present themselves. Individuals should not approach the border until instructed to do so," the release states.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said he hopes the agency will eventually be able to process about 300 people each day through three ports or entry in California and Texas. Asylum seekers will also be tested for COVID-19 prior to entering the United States with the help of international organizations operating in Mexico, and with financial assistance from the United States.

Once in the United States, asylum seekers will go through the rest of their asylum proceedings at immigration courts nearest their new homes — often with family or sponsors.

The Biden administration has indicated that asylum seekers will not be sent to detention facilities, but may have to wear ankle monitors, which has also caused some concern among migrant advocates.

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