US Lets in Asylum Seekers Stuck in Mexico, Ends Trump Policy

The first couple dozen immigrants out of thousands forced to ‘Remain in Mexico’ under a Trump-era immigration policy entered the U.S. on Friday to start the asylum process.

A woman from Honduras sits Wednesday with her baby daughter at a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, for migrants waiting to cross into the United States. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Thousands of immigrants forced to remain in Mexico by the Trump administration have been waiting months or years — including during a global pandemic — to make asylum claims. On Friday, the first couple dozen finally got their change and crossed into the U.S. at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Twenty-five immigrants entered the United States early Friday morning and were taken to an undisclosed hotel in San Diego, according to a spokeswoman for Jewish Family Service of San Diego, a nonprofit which has provided legal and housing services for asylum seekers in San Diego.

Those who were placed in the Trump administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” first after the program was implemented in January 2019 will generally be processed first, though some exceptions will be made for those found to be vulnerable and “in danger of imminent harm,” according to the California Welcoming Task Force which is providing legal and housing services for the immigrants.

Asylum seekers allowed into the port are tested for Covid-19. Those who test positive will quarantine for 10 days before being allowed to enter the United States.

Friday marked the first day immigrants subjected to the Migrant Protection Protocols — also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program — could cross ports of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border to adjudicate their asylum claims. Only those immigrants with active cases before the Executive Office for Immigration Review who were returned to Mexico under MPP and are currently outside the United States are eligible to be processed.

Under Migrant Protection Protocols, asylum seekers were forced to wait in Mexico while their immigration applications were pending. Human rights organizations documented violence faced by the mostly Central American migrants who have stayed in shelters or remained houseless in Mexican border towns.

Doctors Without Borders found in a report last year 80% of the MPP immigrants it had treated were victims of violence.

The Biden administration stopped enrolling newly arrived immigrants in the program on its first day and formally reversed the program last week. This paved the way for 25,000 asylum seekers with active cases to enter the U.S. while they wait for their claims to be processed.

Hundreds of immigrants showed up to the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana on Friday despite pleas from the U.S. government discouraging people without an appointment — made via an online registration portal run by UNICEF and other nonprofits — to wait before approaching the border.

Legal service providers handed out fact sheets to immigrants who showed up at the border Friday containing information about who was eligible to be processed at ports of entry. Immigrants were warned not to believe rumors from coyotes, people who are paid to smuggle immigrants across the border.

Melissa Flores, a spokeswoman for Legal Services provider Al Otro Lado, said in an email there was some confusion at the San Ysidro Port of Entry “that was caused by the Biden administration’s initial lack of concrete details when he announced his executive orders.”

“When there is a lack of information, that void gets filled by traffickers and smugglers who seek to take advantage of migrants,” Flores said.

“Our staff was on the ground handing out MPP information sheets in multiple languages for the people waiting at the port of entry. Nothing is perfect from the start and we look forward to working with the administration and UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] to disseminate accurate information to make this process as smooth as possible,” Flores said.

Jewish Family Service of San Diego CEO Michael Hopkins said in a statement Friday “the San Diego Rapid Response Network remain[s] committed to assisting migrants, including providing respite shelter services for asylum-seeking families, free legal services and education in response to ongoing immigration emergencies.”

“We know the number of asylum seekers from MPP processed into the U.S. will gradually increase in the coming weeks, and we look forward to working with all levels of government to provide the resources and support needed to welcome people seeking asylum safely and expeditiously at our border,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins’ group is working with more than 65 nonprofit and immigrant-serving organizations as part of the California Welcoming Task Force in to provide services in response to the Biden administration’s asylum policy changes.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection did not immediately return an email request for comment.

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