EXPLAINER: What is the revived US policy on the Mexican border?


SAN DIEGO (AP) – The Biden administration on Monday reinstated a Trump-era policy of making asylum seekers in Mexico wait for hearings in a U.S. immigration court, seeking to comply with an order court and accept the changes and additions requested by Mexico.

It started in El Paso, Texas, with up to 50 migrants being returned daily to Ciudad Juarez, according to a US official who requested anonymity as details were not made public.

The Homeland Security Department has confirmed that returns have started at one location and will expand to six more. He declined to identify the launch city or the number of migrants who will be treated, citing “operational security reasons”.

The revival of the “stay in Mexico” policy comes even as the Biden administration maneuvers to end it in a way that survives legal scrutiny. President Joe Biden abandoned the policy, but a lawsuit brought by Texas and Missouri forced him to revive it, subject to Mexico’s acceptance.

WHAT IS THE “STAY IN MEXICO” POLICY?

About 70,000 asylum seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico for U.S. hearings under the policy President Donald Trump introduced in January 2019 and which Biden suspended on his first day in office.

Illegal border crossings fell sharply after Mexico, faced with the threat of higher tariffs from Trump, nodded in 2019 to the policy’s rapid expansion. Asylum seekers have been subjected to major violence while waiting in Mexico and have faced a host of legal obstacles, such as accessing lawyers and information on cases.

According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, only 1% of asylum seekers subject to the policy were granted assistance. About six of the 10 requests were rejected or denied, and the rest are pending.

Only about one in ten had legal representation, well below the average for U.S. immigration courts.

Trump administration officials insist the policy was key in deterring illegal crossings. Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s homeland security secretary, said the policy likely contributed to a drop in crossings in 2019, but with “substantial and unjustifiable human costs” for asylum seekers who have been exposed to violence while they waited in Mexico. Critics say the policy, officially called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” ignores US law and international asylum obligations, which Trump has called a “sham.”

HOW IS ‘REMAIN IN MEXICO’ 2.0 DIFFERENT?

Biden’s version extends the policy to migrants from countries in the Western Hemisphere, while Trump has largely limited it to Spanish-speaking countries in the hemisphere. Mexicans continue to be exempt.

The expansion is especially significant for Haitians, who formed a massive camp in the Texas border town of Del Rio in September. Brazilians, who were largely spared under Trump, could also be badly affected.

The United States will try to close cases within 180 days, a response to Mexico’s concerns that it is languishing in a backlog of 1.5 million cases.

US officials will ask migrants if they fear being returned to Mexico instead of relying on them to express their concerns spontaneously. If the migrants express their fear, they will be checked and will have 24 hours to find a lawyer or representative.

Migrants will also have the opportunity to meet lawyers before each hearing, according to US officials. State Department works with Mexico on locations for video and telephone access to lawyers in the United States

Many US-based legal aid groups that have represented asylum seekers waiting in Mexico say they will no longer take such cases. Lawyers are very skeptical of claims by US and Mexican officials that other lawyers are likely to come forward.

WHAT DOES MEXICO SAY?

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, appointed by Trump in Amarillo, Texas, wrote in his Aug. 13 decision that re-establishment of the policy was subject to Mexico’s acceptance. Mexico’s foreign secretary said Thursday he would allow returns “on humanitarian grounds” after the changes and additions promised by the Biden administration.

All migrants subject to the policy will be vaccinated against COVID-19. Adults will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one injection. Children eligible under U.S. guidelines will receive the Pfizer vaccine, along with a second vaccine when they travel to the United States for their first hearings.

During the negotiations, Mexican officials expressed concern over the return of migrants to the state of Tamaulipas, a particularly dangerous area across the border from South Texas, the most frequented corridor for illegal crossings. . They asked for US financial support for more shelter space, but got only vague commitments.

The policy will eventually be extended to six other locations besides El Paso: San Diego and Calexico, California; Nogales, Arizona; and the Texas border towns of Brownsville, Eagle Pass and Laredo.

Arrangements for transport to and from the Mexican border are under development. Migrants returned to Tamaulipas from Brownsville, Eagle Pass and Laredo may be moved deeper into Mexico for their personal safety.

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