US lets in asylum-seekers stuck in Mexico, ends Trump policy

Photo: AP White House announces sweeping immigration reform bill.

After waiting months and sometimes years in Mexico, people seeking asylum in the United States are being allowed into the country starting Friday as they wait for courts to decide on their cases, unwinding one of the Trump administration’s signature immigration policies that President Joe Biden vowed to end.

The number of asylum-seekers coming in initially will be very limited, beginning Friday at a border crossing in San Diego and expanding to Brownsville, Texas, on Monday and El Paso, Texas, next Friday. US officials are warning people not to come to the US-Mexico border, saying an estimated 25,000 people with active cases in the “Remain in Mexico” program and several hundred who are appealing decisions should register on a website that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is launching early next week.

The International Organization for Migration, the UN 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.

Friday marks a key milestone in unraveling one of former President Donald Trump’s cornerstone policies to deter people from seeking protection from persecution and returns the US asylum system to the way it worked for decades. But there are unanswered questions, including how Central Americans who returned home will get back to the US-Mexico border.

It’s also unclear how long it will take to work through more than 25,000 active Remain in Mexico cases, with the oldest going first. US 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. The officials didn’t specify the crossings.

Biden is quickly making good on a campaign promise to end the policy known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which Trump said was critical to reversing a surge of asylum-seekers that peaked in 2019. The program exposed people to violence in Mexican border cities and made it extremely difficult for them to find lawyers and communicate with courts about their cases.

About 70,000 asylum-seekers were part of the program since it started in January 2019. Asylum-seekers whose cases were dismissed or denied are not eligible to return to the country, but US officials have not ruled out some form of relief later.

The Biden administration, which stopped enrolling new arrivals on its first day, said last week that asylum-seekers with active cases would be released in the United States with notices to appear in immigration courts closest to their final destinations. It brought huge relief to those who are eligible, while US and UN officials urged against a rush to the border.

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