By Alberto Garcia
The new Biden Administration will start allowing asylum seekers stuck in Mexico to enter and stay in the US while their cases are pending, reversing Trump’s policy that standed tens of thousands of migrants in Mexican border towns.
Thousands of asylum-seekers will be allowed to enter the US beginning on February 18th at three border crossings: San Ysidro, El Paso, and Brownsville, Texas. An estimated 25,000 migrants with pending asylum cases will be the first allowed to enter, beginning with about 300 cases per day at each of the three border stations.
A total of approximately 70,000 migrants applied for the program, known as Migrant Protection Protocols, since it was started in January 2019. The controversial program was launched by Trump in an attempt to stop huge migrant caravans that had traveled to the border from Central America by forcing them to stay outside the US pending review of their cases.
But court hearings were suspended in June due to the COVID pandemic and reaching the migrants in Mexico to coordinate future court hearings became difficult for many of them.
Joe Biden had promised to address the crisis at the US border during his campaign. Biden criticized the program that left migrants in danger in makeshift refugee camps in Mexico, leading to reports of physical abuse, extortion, and lack of communication with US-based lawyers and court officials working on asylum cases.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, announced the program changes this week.
“As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas, the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the department in charge of handling asylum cases, said the new policy in more in keeping with the American history of welcoming immigrants.
“This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values.”
Asylum-seekers allowed in to the US will be prioritized based on how long their cases have been pending, along with more vulnerable applicants due to their health or threats to their safety, according to Roberta Jacobson, coordinator for the southwest border on the White House National Security Council.
The Biden Administration has already changed the policy for newly-detained asylum seekers. Since his first day in office, Biden suspended the program for new arrivals which are now being processed and released within the US with notices to appear in court.
Border arrests have increased since Biden was sworn-in on January 20th. Customs and Border Protection officials announced that 3,000 people had been stopped in each of the previous 10 days this week, compared with a daily average of 2,426 in January.
Biden’s change in asylum policy comes after he already announced an immediate stoppage to construction of Trump’s border wall project, and the move prompted a supportive message from Mexico’s President.
“We think it’s good that they don’t build any more walls,” said Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday during his morning news briefing.