US authorities returned first two migrants to Mexico under reinstated ‘stay in Mexico’ policy
The United Nations International Organization for Migration said the two migrants were sent to Mexico via a bridge in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas. The UN agency did not provide the nationalities of the two.
The two were met by Mexican officials who provided them with documents, and UN officials tested them for coronavirus and took them to a shelter. Mexico says the US government has agreed to vaccinate all migrants returned under the program.
Returns were to begin in El Paso with up to 50 migrants to be sent back to Ciudad Juarez daily, said a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity as details have not been made public.
The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that returns have begun at one location and will be expanded to six others. He declined to identify the launch city or the number of migrants who will be processed, citing “operational security reasons”.
The relaunch of the “Stay in Mexico” policy comes even as the Biden administration maneuvers to end it in a way that survives legal scrutiny. Biden scrapped the policy, but a lawsuit by Texas and Missouri forced him to reinstate it, subject to Mexico’s acceptance.
The United States pledged to try to settle cases within 180 days, a response to concerns in Mexico that claimants would languish in a backlog of 1.5 million cases.
Biden’s version extends the policy to migrants from countries in the Western Hemisphere, while Trump has largely limited it to Spanish-speaking countries in the hemisphere. Mexicans continue to be exempt.
The expansion is particularly important for Haitians, who formed a huge camp in the Texas border town of Del Rio in September. Brazilians, largely spared under Trump, could also be hit hard.
U.S. authorities will ask migrants if they fear being sent back to Mexico instead of relying on them to raise concerns spontaneously. If migrants express fear, they will be checked and given 24 hours to find a lawyer or representative.