Two years and 21 days after the first asylum seeker was returned from San Diego to Tijuana as part of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, a small group of asylum seekers were escorted into the other meaning to await the end of immigration court cases in the United States.
Under President Bidens ‘leadership, border officials on Friday began processing the first of some 26,000 people who have cases pending in U.S. immigration courts and who are waiting in Mexico under the Trump administrations’ agenda, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP.
The program radically changed the asylum system. It has become one of former President Trump’s most successful attempts to restrict access to asylum and deter migrants from Latin America from seeking refuge in the United States.
Last month, Biden ordered a hiatus on adding new asylum seekers to the program, but did not end it for those already waiting in Mexico.
The US State Department, in a press release Friday, called the initial treatment of MPP returnees withdrawal, language commonly used for military operations abroad.
Two more El Paso and Brownsville, Texas entry points are expected to begin similar processing as early as next week.
On Friday morning, the group of 25 asylum seekers quietly entered the San Ysidro port of entry without journalists noticing south of the border. They were also not noticed by hundreds of other asylum seekers in the plaza outside the port of entry in hopes of finding refuge north of the border.
The Jewish Family Service in San Diego confirmed before 11 a.m. that the 25 people who had cases of MPP were in the organization’s care and had been quarantined in hotel rooms under the direction of health officials. county public. Among them were six families and five adults from Honduras, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Cuba.
It’s a really different experience from 2 years ago, when we got the call on our hotline that mothers and children were on the streets of San Diego, said Michael Hopkins, CEO of the Jewish. Family Service, referring to the time under the Trump administration. , border officials began releasing asylum seekers without helping them get to their final destination in the United States.
The first asylum seekers to enter the United States on Friday were selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, in coordination with local groups that work with migrants in Tijuana, officials said Thursday. of the UN during a call with journalists. The 25 asylum seekers went to the Centro Integrador migrant shelter in Tijuana on Thursday to be tested for the coronavirus by the United Nations International Organization for Migration. They stayed at the shelter overnight before being transported to the border.
UNHCR launched an online platform on Friday for people with active PID cases to apply to enter the United States.
Once asylum seekers are able to use the platform, they can schedule phone appointments with UNHCR staff to review their information and discuss any vulnerabilities that might make it a priority. ‘Entrance.
Criteria for those vulnerabilities will be set by the United States, UN officials said Thursday, and have not yet been finalized. The process is supposed to prioritize those who have waited the longest in Mexico, UN officials said.
Once asylum seekers complete the registration process, they will be given a date to report to the federal shelter for a coronavirus test and will be taken to the border the next day.
Asylum seekers who are no longer in Mexico’s border towns will be helped return to the border by the International Organization for Migration, UN officials said.
In Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, more than 800 migrants wait in a camp, about two-thirds of them with active or appealing PID cases, said Andrea Lenier, director of planning. strategic camp clinic. by Global Response Management nonprofit. The UN has started to set up tents in the camp for the treatment of PPM.
Texas and northern Mexico were still reeling from a storm on Friday that caused power outages and water shortages for millions of people on both sides of the border. At the camp, temperatures dropped below freezing as the storm knocked down ice and snow.
At the camp, people have hope. But they’re also cold and miserable, says Lenier.
Lenier and other advocates feared that migrants eligible to cross the border would be targeted by smugglers. In Matamoros, people have been so vulnerable to exploitation, kidnapping and extortion, she said, stressing that she shared these security concerns with the Biden administration and was reactive. .
In Tijuana, around 200 asylum seekers who learned that treatment was restarting slept on Thursday evening in El Chaparral Square, outside the western part of the port of entry.
Among them, a woman from Honduras fled her country with her whole family because of death threats. She asked not to be identified because she has not yet found security.
We can’t be here anymore, she said in Spanish. It hurts us to see our kids on the streets, but if we can’t afford to give them something better, that’s where we are.
She was not part of the MPP program, and it is unclear when the United States might start allowing people in her situation.
Nearby, a Guatemalan man seized documents showing he had recently been assaulted in Tijuana and feared staying there. Human Rights First documented more than 1,500 accounts of attacks on MPP asylum seekers in Mexico.
Rumors and misinformation quickly spread through word of mouth and WhatsApp in the days leading up to Friday. More asylum seekers arrived in the plaza on Friday morning, asking for information and when it might be their turn to enter the United States.
Staff from the Al Otro Lado and Innovation Law Lab organizations which, along with the Jewish Family Service, are part of the California Hospitality Task Force working on both sides of the border, were in the plaza, handing out leaflets in Spanish, English and Haitian Creole explaining the changes.
Jollisonn Gena, 28, from Haiti, said many of her compatriots came to the border because they felt excluded by the policies of the Biden administration.
The MPP applied to people from Spanish-speaking countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, as well as Brazil, but generally did not apply to Haitians.
I want it [U.S.] government to understand the situation of Haitians, said Gena. If this program is for Central Americans, Haitians will never cross. We want a program specifically for Haitians.
He said he knew Haitians who had recently been deported or deported to Haiti, under another Trump policy that Biden kept in place, and were later killed.
When the MPP was first implemented, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Trump administration. The Biden administration recently asked the Supreme Court to overturn pleadings in the case, scheduled for this month.
The Biden administration’s action is a welcome start to ending this inhumanity, said Judy Rabinovitz, the prosecution’s lead counsel, but it must act quickly to address the life-threatening situation to which all those affected. by this policy are in danger.
Andrew Meehan, spokesperson for Customs and border protection and homeland security under the Trump administration during a dramatic expansion of the MPP program, said the US government is committed to these migrants to produce a result and had not achieved it.
Asked about the roughly 70,000 asylum seekers that U.S. officials have knowingly forced to return to some of the world’s most dangerous cities, and an internal report by senior homeland security officials that border patrol pressured them Asylum officers to deny applications and prevent access to asylum, Meehan replied: Was the question worth it? is an almost impossible question to answer.
A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service official and a former asylum officer who was scheduled to interview MPs had harsh words for the Biden administration.
I am disgusted that the program has not been abolished, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect against professional reprisals. And I mourn all those who have suffered and continue to suffer because of it.
Morrissey reported from Tijuana, Hennessy-Fiske from Houston and OToole from Washington.
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