WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to expand its “Remain in Mexico” policy on Friday by sending asylum seekers who cross the border in the Tucson, Arizona, area back to Mexico to await their court dates, according to a internal email obtained by NBC News.
The expansion would send immigrants seeking asylum in and around Tucson first to El Paso, Texas, and then to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, according to the email.
The email was widely sent to Customs and Border Protection officials, telling them that the Tucson area needs to ‘begin protesting and processing people who may be removed tomorrow morning’, referring to the protocol Protection of Migrants, the official title of Staying in Mexico. .
CBP is already returning non-Mexican, mostly Central American asylum seekers to Mexico if they pass through the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley areas of Texas.
CBP referred NBC News to the Department of Homeland Security for comment. DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In October, 6,352 undocumented immigrants entered the Tucson area, a 262-mile stretch of border between the New Mexico state line and the eastern edge of Arizona’s Yuma County, although the number of asylum seekers is unknown. Tucson was second in migrant crossings only in the Rio Grande Valley area, which had nearly 10,000 last month.
Since Remain in Mexico went into effect in January, immigration lawyers have challenged the policy in court, saying asylum seekers have their rights violated by being forced to wait in unsafe conditions in the northern Mexico.
Immigrants are brought to courtrooms set up in tents on the US side of the border and face year-long wait times for a final judgment on their case.
Despite legal challenges, the policy remains in place.
The Trump administration this week unveiled another policy limiting the rights of asylum seekers. Beginning Wednesday, DHS began deporting Central Americans to countries that have agreements with the United States. For example, if migrants from El Salvador or Honduras travel through Guatemala to the United States without seeking asylum, they will be deported to Guatemala.