WASHINGTON – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will work to identify the most needy migrants waiting in Mexico and help them with the paperwork to make a refugee claim in the United States, a a US official told VOA.
Reflecting UNHCR’s role in facilitating the resettlement of refugees around the world, the UN agency will work with the Biden administration to address the plight of tens of thousands of asylum seekers that the former Trump administration has brought to bear. forced to stay in Mexico pending the dates of the court initiative known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or the “stay in Mexico” policy.
“UNHCR is working to select the most vulnerable people or those who have more time in the MPP program to get through [into the United States]Roberta Jacobson, White House National Security Council Southwest Border Coordinator, told VOA.
The Biden administration, which has decided to end the MPP, is expected to start processing asylum claims on February 19.
There are around 25,000 migrants with active cases of PPM.
UNHCR’s screening of asylum seekers is expected to reduce the need to detain migrants authorized to enter the United States. Instead, most will be allowed to stay with sponsors or family members already in the United States.
We don’t have it in mind to detain the majority of these people, Jacobson said. We will start with a very small number to make sure everything is working fine.
Despite UNHCR’s assistance, the United States will continue to decide who ultimately gets asylum and is allowed to stay legally in the country.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has stressed that the change in policy does not mean that the border opens for people to migrate irregularly to the United States. “
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the initiative shows administrations’ commitment to immigration reform, but added that due to capacity constraints at the US-Mexico border exacerbated by the pandemic of COVID-19, change will take time.
People who are not eligible under this initial phase must wait for further instructions and not go to the border, Mayorkas said in a statement. Due to the current pandemic, border restrictions remain in place and will be enforced.
President Joe Biden suspended the MP in the days following his inauguration last month. Until this week, it was unclear what would replace it and when the new policy would take effect.
“This new process applies to people who have been returned to Mexico under the MPP program and who have cases pending before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR),” DHS said in a recent press release. “People outside the United States who have not been returned to Mexico under the MPP or who do not have an pending immigration lawsuit will not be considered to participate in this program and should wait for more. instructions.
A migrant puts on her shoes after crossing the Rio Bravo River to surrender to a U.S. Border Patrol agent seeking asylum in El Paso, Texas, seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on February 8, 2021.
The former Trump administration launched MPP in 2019 to deter massive migration to the Americas’ southern border and reduce overcrowding in US detention centers. Trump’s White House has championed the policy as both necessary and humane in persuading many migrants not to make the arduous and dangerous journey north.
Supporters of the program have called MPP a success.
MPP was a game-changer, said Lora Ries, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank. And that’s because migrants learned that just claiming fear was not the golden ticket to enter the United States.
Immigrant rights groups say the policy has forced many migrants to settle in makeshift camps in northern Mexico where they endured hunger, disease and threats to their physical safety from of criminal gangs.
Human Rights First reported that migrants have been kidnapped, tortured and sexually assaulted by cartels operating along the US-Mexico border.
Last week, the Biden administration said migrants will have to register with international organizations online or by phone, then wait for instructions.
U.S. officials said migrants would be tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the United States and that they would be required to wear face masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Jorge Agobian contributed to this story.
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