SAN FRANCISCO — Central American migrants seeking asylum at the US–Mexico border will be forced to remain in Mexico while their cases in the US are being processed, the Trump administration said Thursday.
The unprecedented policy change will take effect on Friday with the return of the first group of migrants at the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, according to Vox.
The policy, titled the Migrant Protection Protocols, is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to discourage migrants, including asylum-seekers, from trying to enter the United States. Previous attempts, such as banning asylum for those who crossed without authorization, were blocked by the courts, and this effort also is likely to face a challenge in court.
Under the policy, certain migrants at the border will receive a “notice to appear” in US immigration court and will be returned to Mexico until their hearing, according to a Department of Homeland Security fact sheet. The Mexican government, according to the agency, has provided the ability for those individuals to stay in the country until their court dates in the US. On the day of their hearing, migrants will be taken to US immigration courts for their cases to be heard.
Unaccompanied children will be excluded from the policy and those from “vulnerable populations” may be excluded on a case-by-case basis.
"We have implemented an unprecedented action that will address the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern border," said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. "For far too long, our immigration system has been exploited by smugglers, traffickers, and those who have no legal right to remain in the United States. The Migrant Protection Protocols represent a methodical commonsense approach to exercising our statutory authority to require certain individuals to await their court proceedings in Mexico."
A US official close to the process who is critical of the policy told BuzzFeed News it would lead migrants to “revert to sneaking in rather than going to ports of entry” and cause “more deaths in the desert.”
The Trump administration informed the Mexican government that it was going to be enacting the policy based on a statute stating that certain individuals can be sent back to the contiguous country they arrived from.
BuzzFeed News first reported that the administration was considering such a policy back in November.
Trump administration officials have accused asylum-seekers of gaming the US system, requesting asylum that they know they won’t qualify for so that they can remain in the country for months or years while immigration courts hear their cases.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said the policy was a circumvention of the country’s immigration laws.
“Today’s announcement creates more questions than answers. Even putting aside the unlawfulness of this action, we do not know where these asylum-seekers will be held, who will be responsible for their safety, how and where their hearings will take place, or how access to counsel will be handled,” she said in a statement Thursday.
Jeff Chase, a former immigration judge, said the move was outrageous.
“We should be allowing asylum-seekers to enter and pursue their claims according to the international legal norms,” he said. “It will obviously be much more difficult for asylum-seekers to obtain counsel and to meaningfully participate in increasingly complex legal claims from outside the country.”