- The Biden administration is launching a program February 19 to process asylum-seekers.
- Roughly 25,000 people are eligible, having been subject to the “Remain in Mexico” program.
- Others who cross the border seeking asylum will continue to be expelled.
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When President Joe Biden took office, he immediately declared that asylum-seekers would no longer be subject to his predecessor’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. Now, his administration announced Friday, the approximately 25,000 people stranded south of the border will be given a chance to come and stay in the US while they await a verdict on their claims.
“We are working as quickly as we can get to get this off the ground,” according to US Department of Homeland Security officials.
The plan is to start small, but soon. Beginning February 19, the Department of Homeland Security, partnering with international organizations in Mexico, will identify the most vulnerable candidates, get them tested for COVID-19, and bring them north.
The aim, to start, is to process 300 cases each day, DHS officials explained. They will not be held in detention but permitted — while subject to monitoring — to stay with family, and their cases will be heard at the closest convenient venue.
DHS officials said only a handful of undisclosed ports of entry will process asylum seekers — a trial to see if capacity can be built up safely during the pandemic.
“This is an important part of our President Biden’s commitment to restoring humane and orderly processing at the border,” DHS officials told reporters. “And that means to start asylum proceedings and allow people access to asylum proceedings in the United States for people who have been too long kept in Mexico and been unable to pursue their cases.”
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Mexico has proven to be a dangerous place for those who fled violence and poverty elsewhere. Since February of 2019, over 1,300 asylum-seekers who were stuck there were kidnapped, raped, or otherwise assaulted, per a report from Human Rights First. Keeping immigrants in those conditions was a key element of the Trump administration’s to discourage others from seeking refuge in the US.
At least for now, though, asylum seekers outside of the Remain in Mexico program will continue to be subject to a Trump-era policy: immediate expulsion, justified by a fear that processing potentially thousands of untested people — and sending a message that the border can now be crossed — might imperil public health during the pandemic.
“This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Especially at the border, however, where capacity constraints remain serious, changes will take time.”
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