The Biden administration is poised to allow an estimated 25,000 asylum-seekers forced to remain in Mexico under former President Trump into the U.S. while they wait for their next immigration court hearings.
The first group of these individuals will be allowed into the country Feb. 19, the Associated Press reports. The plan is to start slowly, with two border locations processing up to 300 people a day and a third taking fewer. AP said officials haven’t named the locations to the press for fear of encouraging a rush of people to those locations.
This move is in direct opposition to former President Trump’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” — better known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Trump introduced the measure in January 2019, forcing about 70,000 asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court hearings. Forcing these individuals to wait out their cases in Mexico subjected them to possible kidnapping and violence in border cities that are largely controlled by illegal gangs. On Biden’s first day in office, his administration suspended the policy for new arrivals. Hearings for those affected by the “Remain in Mexico” policy have been suspended until June 2021 because of the pandemic.
“This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Marorkas said in a press release.
In the memo, Homeland Security stressed that the move “should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate irregularly to the United States.” The majority of people who have been crossing the border have been sent back immediately under a Trump-era public health order. However, some asylum-seekers in Texas and California have been caught and subsequently released pending their trials in recent days, raising some alarms regarding COVID-19. This practice, dubbed “catch and release” also occurred under Trump until September 2019.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she does not want these releases to encourage others to enter without documentation.
“We don’t want people to put themselves in danger at a time where it is not the right time to come, because we have not had time to put in place a humane and moral system and process,” she said in a press conference Thursday.
Getting people enrolled in “Remain in Mexico” back to the border may present challenges. Homeland Security said it will announce a virtual registration process that will tell people online and by phone when they may report to the border. Those entering will be tested for COVID-19 before their release.
Since Biden was sworn in, there has been a surge of people trying to cross the border illegally. On Feb. 9, Deputy Chief of the Border Patrol Raul Ortiz said 3,000 people were stopped at the border in the previous 10 days, compared to an average of 2,426 in January, the AP reported. Despite Biden’s public dedication for more humane immigration policies, hundreds are still being deported to countries like Jamaica, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti under Texas U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, who placed a 14-day injunction against Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium.
The Biden administration’s announcement doesn’t guarantee help to anyone whose cases were already dismissed or denied. Advocates have said that problems with communication and lack of working addresses in Mexico contributed to people missing their hearings and losing their cases. Administration officials haven’t ruled out future measures to address the issue.