The Department of Homeland Security began rolling out its policy in El Paso, Texas on Wednesday requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico pending court hearings in their cases, NBC News has learned.
A DHS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said those subject to the policy, called Migrant Protection Protocols by the Trump administration, will have to stay in Mexico from the end of the week. .
The policy began in January at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego, where migrants were told to wait in Tijuana, Mexico, while their asylum claims were processed.
Expectations are now placed on migrants attempting to cross anywhere in the San Diego sector of the California-Mexico border.
The administration has tried to reduce the number of people crossing the border at ports of entry or entering the United States without legal papers and seeking asylum.
Asylum applications can take months or even years. Previously, asylum seekers with pending cases were allowed to wait for them in the United States.
administration defended the new policy needed to protect migrants from harm and end the exploitation of immigration laws. It is also designed to reduce the number of immigrants the government has to track while awaiting the outcome of their case.
But it has led to dangerous conditions for migrants waiting in Tijuana, Mexico, for the chance to formally seek asylum due to violence, overcrowded encampments and vulnerability to local gangs, NBC News reported.
Some fear the same situation awaits those wishing to enter El Paso from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the city just across the border.
The administration’s plan drew an angry rebuke from U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents El Paso.
“With this shameful policy, the administration is putting lives at risk, abandoning its obligation to provide smart solutions to our broken immigration system, and imposing on another country the task of solving our immigration problems,” Escobar said. in a press release.
“Enough is enough. I will soon introduce legislation to ensure that no funding is provided for this misguided policy,” she said and called on other representatives to “stand up against the anti-immigrant agenda of Trump and to join me in the effort.”
Children who come to the border alone are excluded from the “stay in Mexico” policy, but those traveling with their families are not, which means they can also be sent back to Mexico while they wait for their appointment. in immigration court.
This policy has created obstacles for lawyers trying to represent clients in asylum cases. Lawyers don’t know if they need visas in Mexico, have to try to find their clients who may not be staying in shelters, and communication can be a problem. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the policy in a lawsuit.
A federal immigration judge who hears asylum cases in San Diego questioned a government lawyer about how the government can do the legal work required for claimants forced to wait in Mexico, Reuters reported. Judge Jonathan Simpson asked the attorney how the court would serve notices on migrants in Mexico without a home address.
“I don’t have the answer,” replied government lawyer Robert Wetteis, according to Reuters.
The expansion comes as El Paso sees an increase in the number of people arrested for trying to enter the United States without proper papers. Apprehended migrants are processed and eventually released, which has recently flooded local non-profit Annunciation House and its partners, who are scrambling to shelter them.
As many people were released by government officials on Tuesday, the City of El Paso’s Emergency Management Office prepared a local recreation center to accommodate about 150 people.
In the end, the House of the Annunciation, which sheltered many migrants, found them hotel rooms.
But on Wednesday, more migrants were released. Ruben Garcia, executive and legal director of the House of the Annunciation, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed him he would release 283 people in the morning and another 282 at noon.
Many of these people, if they cannot board a bus leaving on the day of their release, will stay at Annunciation House until they can, usually no more than two or three days later.
“I will distribute these people among the 11 different reception sites that we have. It’s like that every day,” Garcia said.
Annunciation House operates solely on donations and has spent about $1 million on hotels over time, he said.
Border Patrol said in a statement Tuesday that it has averaged about 570 arrests a day over the past 30 days in its El Paso sector, and that 90% of arrests during that time have occurred in the El Paso metropolitan area.
The El Paso area covers 125,500 square miles and includes all of New Mexico and the two westernmost counties of Texas, El Paso and Hudspeth. The sector includes 268 miles of border.
On Tuesday, Customs and Border Protection said it apprehended two groups of a total of 446 people in El Paso in the span of five early morning minutes.
Officers ‘met’ the first group near high steel fences along the US side of the border and just west of Bowie High School, which is less than a mile from the Rio Grande international border , said CBP. They were discovered at 2:45 a.m.
Then at 2:50 a.m., officers “encountered” a second group of 252 people, who had crossed the border illegally near downtown El Paso, CBP said.
Garcia said he and other advocates don’t dispute that El Paso is seeing more immigrants. But he said he took issue with the way they were characterized – as if all were violent or criminal.
He wants the public to be asked about the words found at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your weary masses, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
“If we don’t want to live up to this anymore,” he said, “is it time to tear down the Statue of Liberty?”
Suzanne Gamboa reported from Austin, Texas, and Julia Ainsley from Washington, DC