US begins admitting asylum seekers blocked by Trump, with thousands more waiting

20 Février, 2021, 21:24 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
  • Asylum seekers make their way towards the US in the Mexican border city of Mexicali in 2018

The Biden administration moved to restore the asylum system to the way it worked for decades Friday by releasing a group of asylum-seekers into the United States, ending their long wait in Mexico and unraveling one of former President Donald Trump's signature immigration policies.

USA border officials processed 25 Latin American asylum-seekers at the San Ysidro port of entry in southern California and allowed them to stay in the country for the duration of their proceedings.

The U.S.is expected to release 25 people a day in San Diego who had been forced to wait in Mexico, said Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is playing a critical support role. The group included six families and five individuals from Honduras, Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Cuba.

About 70,000 asylum-seekers have been part of the Remain in Mexico program since it started in January 2019.

The Biden administration is treading carefully in its efforts to process asylum seekers, wary that the policy shift could encourage more migrants to trek to the U.S. -Mexico border. About 850 of them have applied for asylum and were told to wait in Mexico for their court dates. "It's such a wonderful sigh of relief that finally, at least for the 25 people, there is going to be justice and hope". Gomez, 36, said Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexico, at a border crossing with San Diego.

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.

Most returned home but some stayed in Mexico in sometimes squalid or unsafe conditions, vulnerable to kidnapping and other violence.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment.

"Individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border", Mayorkas said in a statement.

The chances of securing legal assistance also proved to be slim for most migrants returned to Mexico. It exposed them to violence in Mexican border cities and made it hard to find lawyers and communicate with courts about their cases.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will work to identify the most needy migrants waiting in Mexico and help them complete paperwork to pursue asylum claims in the United States, a US official told VOA.

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"We don't have in mind detaining the majority of these persons", Jacobson said.

The Biden administration estimates some 25,000 migrants still have active cases.

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.

But she said everyone is also on edge, especially asylum-seekers.

The International Organization for Migration, the U.N. migration agency, plans to test asylum-seekers for COVID-19 and will quarantine anyone who tests positive for 10 days before they enter the United States.

The U.S.is set to start processing more eligible asylum-seekers in the Texas' Rio Grande Valley on Monday and in El Paso later next week. USA officials say two of the border crossings can each handle up to 300 people a day and a smaller crossing can take fewer, but they will start well below those numbers.

USA officials say anyone who seeks to enter and is not a member of the MPP programme will be immediately expelled.

US officials said migrants will be tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to enter the United States and will be required to wear face masks and comply with social distancing guidelines.

Now they will be allowed into the USA to wait for their applications to be heard in immigration courts. Instead, they will be referred to local shelters and groups like Jewish Family Service so they can access temporary housing before leaving for their respective destinations in the U.S. Authorities can process up to 300 a day at the San Diego border crossing, but Hopkins said it's not known when they will change the target of 25 a day.

"Most come over with very little money and very little possessions", Hopkins said. Through private donations and funds from California and the federal government, Hopkins' group will be offering newly admitted migrants clothing, food, other necessities like diapers and help arranging transportation.

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