The first cohort of migrants enrolled in a recently revived border program requiring asylum seekers to wait out their court cases in Mexico had their U.S. immigration hearings in Texas on Monday, according to senior administration officials.
The group of 36 migrants were returned to Mexico under the so-called Remain in Mexico program, or Migrant Protection Protocols, which require migrants seeking U.S. protection to wait in Mexico for decisions on their cases. immigration. The Biden administration revived the Trump-era agenda last month by court order, though it has continued to fight the ruling in court.
In a call with reporters Monday, administration officials said the program, previously limited to migrants who crossed at El Paso, Texas, will be expanded to the San Diego port of entry, where individuals would be pushed back to Tijuana, Mexico.
An official said the administration plans to expand the program to other ports of entry “in the near future” and that they are “actively discussing the timing and logistics of these expansions with the Mexican government.”
More than 200 migrants have been returned to Mexico under the reinstated program, according to a spokesperson for the United Nations International Organization for Migration.
Administration officials pointed to ongoing efforts to address humanitarian concerns raised during the Trump administration’s implementation of the program, such as vaccinating migrants against COVID-19 and offering outreach programs. legal guidance.
People who express a fear of persecution during their hearings will be sent to a border patrol center, where they will have 24 hours to consult with a lawyer before submitting to a check by an asylum officer. The Mexican government will also provide migrants under the program with access to shelter and safe transportation, officials said.
Still, the Biden administration has drawn backlash from Democratic lawmakers and advocates for its revival of the program.
Human Rights First researchers have documented more than 1,500 cases of publicly reported rapes, murders, kidnappings and other attacks against migrants returned to Mexico under the program while it was in effect under the Trump administration.
In December, a bicameral group of more than three dozen Democratic lawmakers took particular issue with the Biden administration’s decision to expand the policy to more nationalities than the previous administration, as well as giving asylum seekers only 24 hours to consult a lawyer before their screenings.
“These choices suggest that your administration has made the decision to normalize and expand a cruel ‘deterrent’ policy that does not actually address the root causes of migration,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden and to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Earlier this year, dozens of legal services programs and law school clinics publicly said they would refuse to offer legal services to migrants in the program if the administration took it over. They argued that there was “no way to make this program safe, humane or legal” and that they would “refuse to be complicit in it”.
During Monday’s call, administration officials called on these legal service providers to “step up” and represent these migrants in the program. A manager said he has been “encouraged by many conversations” he has had with suppliers so far.
“We certainly hope that over time more organizations, individuals and entities will step up to provide the representation that we all know is so badly needed,” the official said.