The U.S. on Friday began admitting migrants waiting in Mexico for their immigration cases to be processed — as the Biden administration moves to wind down the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a move critics say could fuel a new border crisis.
A limited number of asylum-seekers will start being allowed in at border crossings in San Diego on Friday, to be expanded next week. Officials say that approximately 25,000 migrants are waiting in Mexico as part of MPP.
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The program, known as the “Remain-in-Mexico” policy and agreed to with Mexico, was a key component of the Trump administration’s efforts to curb the 2019 border crisis and end “catch-and-release” — by which migrants were released into the U.S. to await their hearings.
MPP set up court tents at the border where migrants could have their hearings and cases processed and then would return to Mexico to await the result. Proponents said it stopped the pull factors bringing migrants north, and was effective in weeding out illegitimate asylum claims. But critics claimed it was cruel and designed to close the border — pointing also to squalid conditions in camps set up on the Mexican side of the border.
Biden ordered a review of MPP after entering office, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last week that it would begin to process migrants placed in the program.
“As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values.”
As Republicans warn that the rollback could lead to a new crisis at the border with the return of powerful pull factors, the White House has warned migrants that “now is not the time” to come to the border, and officials have said that those appealing decisions should register on a U.N. website launching next week.
The U.N.’s migration agency will test migrants for COVID-19 and those who test positive will be quarantined. Those who have been rejected via MPP are not eligible to return, although officials have not ruled out some form of relief.
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It is one of a number of moves to roll back Trump-era policies, including stopping border wall construction and implementing new enforcement guidelines to limit which illegal immigrants are targeted for deportation within the U.S. The Biden administration has sought to halt all deportations for 100 days but has so far been blocked by a Texas lawsuit.
Republicans have been raising concerns about those policies, including a sweeping immigration bill to grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants, warning that it could lead to a new crisis.
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“Terminating MPP would unilaterally discard a significant diplomatic achievement, reward abuse of our generous asylum laws, and endanger American communities as a result,” Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., said in a letter to Biden this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.