The Biden Administration started taking a hammer to a cornerstone of former President Trump’s immigration policy, as on Friday it allowed the first asylum-seekers into the country.
President Biden’s new rules let 25 asylum-seekers stay in the US Friday as they await their hearing, instead of remaining in Mexico, as they had to do under the previous administration.
The migrants tested negative for COVID-19 and were taken to San Diego hotels to quarantine before traveling by plane or bus to their final destinations, according to Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is helping the effort.
The US is expected to release 25 asylum-seekers per day in California. Migrants are also expected to be let into Brownsville and El Paso, Texas beginning next week.
There are an estimated 25,000 people with active cases in the program; several hundred of them are appealing decisions.
Officials have warned migrants not to flood the border as the Trump-era program is slowly phased out and instead register online through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees early next week.
“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 last week.
Friday’s developments at the border are the beginning of the fulfillment of a campaign promise by President Biden to end the policy known as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which Trump implemented to reverse a surge of asylum-seekers.
On Jan. 9, a federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s asylum rules.
Advocates of the MPP program said it reduced the flood of migrants heading to the border, and weeded out false asylum claims. Critics said the program was cruel to refugees in need of protection and was intended to close the border.
About 70,000 asylum-seekers were part of the program since it started in January 2019.
Anyone who enters the US has a legal right to apply for asylum, which is granted to people fleeing persecution, according to US asylum law and international treaty obligations.
The White House said last week that migrants with active cases would be released in the US with notices to appear in immigration courts.
As the asylum system returns to its former method of operation, many questions remain. It’s unclear how Central Americans who were turned away in Mexico will get back to the border after returning home, and there is no timeline in place for working through all the backlogged cases.
Mexico’s National Guard said on Saturday that it detained 108 Central American migrants headed to the US without documentation to be in Mexico.
In recent weeks, thousands of Central American migrants have been heading north after back-to-back hurricanes late last year displaced more than half a million people in the region.
In California, Jewish Family Service — a coalition of nongovernmental groups called the San Diego Rapid Response Network — is providing hotel rooms, health screenings and arrange and pay for transportation and food for the migrants if needed, according to Hopkins.
“We’ll make sure they are healthy and in good shape to travel,” Hopkins said in an interview.
Edwin Gomez, who said his wife and son were killed by gangs in El Salvador after he couldn’t pay their extortion demands, was eager to join his 15-year-old daughter in Texas.
“Who thought this day would come?” Gomez, 36, said Wednesday at a Tijuana border crossing. “I never thought it would happen.”
Enda Marisol Rivera of El Salvador and her 10-year-old son have been braving below-freezing temperatures in Northern Mexico, trying to stay warm in a makeshift tent city made of tarps. Despite the Artic blast, Rivera was encouraged by the news.
Rivera was hopeful she would be allowed to come to live with her sister in Los Angeles, and wait for her court date there.
“We have faith in God that we will be allowed in,” she said Wednesday. “We have already spent enough time here.”
At the tent city in Matamoros, where Rivera and about 1,000 other migrants waited, medical workers were cautiously optimistic.
“People are incredibly hopeful that this is their chance to get across, but there also is a lot of anxiety and fear that somehow if they do the wrong thing and they’re not at the right place at the right time, they might miss out,” Andrea Leiner, spokeswoman for Global Response Management said.
With Post wires