Asylum-seekers begin entering US as Biden unwinds Trump immigration curbs

The asylum-seekers were allowed into the US on Friday as part of President Joe Biden’s efforts to unwind the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies.

Under former president Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program, tens of thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers — mostly from Central America — were sent back over the border pending the outcome of their applications.

Biden’s administration moved quickly to start dismantling the controversial policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), with a first stage that began on Friday.

‘An important step’

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed their arrival as “an important step in rebuilding” the US asylum system. “But thousands are still suffering right now stuck in limbo under this inhumane policy,” ACLU San Diego spokesman Edward Sifuentes said.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there are approximately 25,000 active cases. Mexico says 6,000 remain on its territory.

The 25 asylum-seekers were allowed to enter in San Ysidro, California, and will now be quarantining at a local hotel, according to Reuters news agency. They were tested for coronavirus before entering.

There was some confusion over the launching of a website that enables migrants with active cases to register for hearings remotely, to be processed at the US-Mexico border.

“We have faith in God that we will be allowed in. We have already spent enough time here,” Enda Marisol told AP news agency. She has been awaiting her hearing with her 10-year-old son.

Reversal of Trump policies

Biden began overturning Trump’s hardline immigration policies on January 20, his first day in office, when he lifted a travel ban on 13 mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, halted construction of the US-Mexico border wall and reversed other measures.

Democrats on Thursday formally introduced Biden’s sweeping immigration bill in Congress, a measure that would provide a path to US citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The Biden administration is treading carefully in its efforts to process asylum-seekers, wary that the policy shift could encourage more migrants to trek to the US-Mexico border. US officials say anyone who seeks to enter and does not have an active MPP case will be immediately expelled.

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Free for now Buses arrive throughout the day at the McAllen, Texas, bus station with immigrants released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers and allowed to stay in the US while their cases are processed. Between October 2018 and March 2019, about 268,044 immigrants were detained at the border, according to US border authorities.

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Handed over to volunteers Once off the Homeland Security bus, immigrants wait for a border patrol agent to hand them over to a volunteer from the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV). Due to the high number of families crossing the border and the scale of the humanitarian crisis overwhelming the US government, civilian organizations have mobilized to help immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border.

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Organized chaos At CCRGV’s Humanitarian Respite Center, people can eat, shower and sort themselves out before traveling to friends or family who will host them while they await immigration court hearings. Up to 800 immigrants arrive at the center each day. “Neither political side in the US appears to have an answer,” says Brianna Trifiletti, a helper at the center. “The solution has to come in Central America.”

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Long road ahead Once immigrants secure a bus ticket — typically bought by a contact in the US — they are taken back to the Greyhound station. Here volunteer Melanie Domingez uses a US map to indicate to immigrants — many of whom only speak an indigenous language — where they need to change buses. “It’s busy but also rewarding as I was an immigrant once,” Domingez says. “I feel it is my place to be here.”

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Numbers behind the wall East of McAllen, stretching for miles along the border, is a wall built in the 2000s. Then the number of immigrants apprehended at the border — mostly single men — averaged 81,550 per month. Now the average is 32,012 per month and the dilemma is a different one as those coming are mostly immigrant families with young children, who are harder to detain and process.

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers River of division The Rio Grande acts as the Texas portion of the US border with Mexico. “Every week I hear about another drowning,” says Jennifer Harbury, who works with people fleeing violence in Central America. “A mother paid the smugglers to take her and three children across on a raft. It hit some turbulence and her two-year-old fell in. The boat man said, ‘We don’t stop mid-river,’ as the child went under.”

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers US measures to limit migrant flow At the Mexican end of the International Gateway Bridge, which links the cities of Matamoros and Brownsville, immigrants check lists giving the order in which people will be allowed to cross and approach the US side. This so-called “metering” of immigrants is one of several new policies introduced by the Trump administration that many argue contravenes both US and international asylum laws.

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Economic migrants vs. asylum-seekers At another bridge, a Nicaraguan mother and daughter wait, hoping they can claim asylum. One factor in the US immigration debate is whether those coming should get asylum, meant for people fleeing persecution rather than economic hardship. “I had a job as a civil engineer, but I still came here,” says 27-year-old Erving from Nicaragua. “We are fleeing violence, it’s not about trying to find jobs.”

What happens to immigrants once they leave US detention centers Hope mingles with fear Back at McAllen’s Greyhound bus station, 9-year-old Valeria from Honduras waits for the bus that will take her and her family north. Immigrants tend to be in good spirits once they have rested and been fed at the CCRGV center. “But there is still fear,” says a Honduran woman. “I don’t know if after my court hearing I will be able to stay, or whether I will be deported.” Author: James Jeffrey

tg/sri (AP, AFP, Reuters)