By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Asylum seekers encampment; CC by NC
February 14, 2021 (Washington D.C.) – President Joe Biden has issued an executive order to reverse former President Donald Trump’s “wait in Mexico” policy, an action that endangered the safety of migrants encamped in unsanitary conditions and in some cases, preyed upon by thieves, traffickers and other criminals. The policy also made it hard for asylum-seekers to find lawyers or even to learn when their asylum hearings in U.S. courts were scheduled.
But although around 25,000 asylum-seekers with active cases are currently waiting in Mexico, only a trickle of these will be allowed to enter the U.S. starting on Feb. 19.
Associated Press(AP) reports that authorities plan to begin with just two border crossings each processing up to 300 applicants daily and a third crossing processing even fewer.
Priority will be given to those who have been waiting the longest and those who are most vulnerable, NPR reports.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has emphasized that migrants should not be misled to believe that the U.S. now has open borders. “We don’t want people to put themselves in danger at a time where it is not the right time to come, because we have not had time to put in place a human and moral system and process,” she stated last week, according to AP.
Authorities have not announced which border crossing stations will be processing the existing backlog of asylum seekers, so as to discourage immigrants from arriving unscheduled.
Homeland Security is setting up an online process for asylum seekers to register and check on court hearings. But some immigrant advocates say the process could still exclude migrants who don’t have access to computers.
Austin Kocher, a faculty fellow at Syracuse University’s Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which tracks immigration data, says, “Unfortunately, DHS’s process for hearing these remaining cases relies on a virtual registration process that may actually exclude precisely those asylum-seekers who don’t have access to technology and who are the most in need of protection,” Common Dreams reports.
According to TRAC, since the remain in Mexico program began under Trump in 2019, over 71,000 immigrants have been enrolled and nearly 42,000 of those cases have been closed, with only1.5% granted any form of relief. Of those with cases still active, 86% have no attorney on record.
The new Biden policy applies only to immigrants seeking asylum, who must demonstrate in court that they face a credible threat of violence if they return to their homelands. It does not apply to other migrants, such as those seeking job opportunities or to visit family members here.
Those asylum seekers in Mexico who are admitted to the U.S. to await their hearings may still be placed in detention centers, such as the one at Otay Mesa that has been used by prior administrations to house some asylum-seekers. Others deemed low-risk may be released to stay with family members.
All asylum-seekers admitted to the U.S. will be screened for COVID-19 and given masks.
In addition to adopting a more human process for those awaiting asylum, the Biden administration has also announced its intent to provide economic development aid aimed at reducing migration from Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America by addressing the root causes of the exodus, MSN reports.