Biden Forced to Reinstate Remain-in-Mexico Policy for Asylum Seekers
By Sandra G. Leon
The Biden Administration has reinstated a controversial Trump-era policy that forces asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border to remain south of the border while their applications are pending.
On his first day in office, President Joe Biden reversed the policy which, for the first time in US history, required asylum seekers who present themselves at the border to wait in a foreign country while awaiting approval of their applications.
The Trump White House had instituted the change in January 2019 in an attempt to stem the flow of thousands of South and Central American migrants who had traveled in large caravans to the US-Mexico border to escape violence and hardships in their native countries.
Previous US policy had allowed asylum seekers to enter the US while their applications were pending, but, after Trump changed the policy, shantytowns sprang up along the border in Tijuana and border cities in Texas.
Asylum seekers became victims of violence and theft while camped in makeshift shelters, and may had difficulty accessing legal help to process their applications.
After Biden ended the policy in January, a federal lawsuit was filed to stop the change.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee in Amarillo, Texas, ordered the Biden Administration to restart the policy which forced the US and Mexico to cooperate on a workable process.
The newly restated policy will seek to process asylum applications within 180 days, require applicants to be fully vaccinated for COVID, assign 22 immigration judges to work exclusively on the cases, and will help ensure their safety as they travel to and from hearings as necessary.
Biden officials say they are working to develop a new policy which can survive legal challenges.
In the meantime, federal authorities will begin returning asylum seekers through four border cities, including Tijuana, and El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville in Texas.
The Mexican government made certain requests as part of the program, including that migrants have access to meet with US attorneys before each hearing using video and phone access in Mexico, and that “vulnerable” people should be exempt from being returned to Mexico, including unaccompanied children, pregnant women, physically or mentally ill people, older people, indigenous people, and members of the LGBTQ community who have faced abuse in migrant camps.
Mexico is requesting funding from the US for providing shelters and support for the asylum seekers awaiting their processing.