The Biden administration announced that it will this week begin allowing into the U.S. a number of the thousands of asylum-seekers who have been forced by the previous administration to wait for their U.S. immigration court dates in Mexico, NBC News reports. “Starting Feb. 19, asylum-seekers who have been waiting the longest or are considered vulnerable will be eligible to enter the United States as they await their day in court.”
Since its Jan. 2019 implementation, a total of 70,000 asylum-seekers have been subject to the dangerous and illegal Remain in Mexico policy. There were still 25,000 active cases when the new administration announced it would no longer be enrolling new asylum-seekers in the program. The Associated Press (AP) reports that under plan, U.S. officials will begin to process at least 600 asylum-seekers per day at three ports of entry.
Time is of the essence: many of the asylum-seekers who have been forced to wait for their U.S. immigration court dates in Mexico are still living in a squalid camp on the Mexican side of the border, where they’re enduring a winter storm with nothing more than tents, makeshift grills, and the clothing on their backs to protect them from freezing cold temperatures. Dallas Morning News reported that with electricity out at the camp, electric heaters were useless.
“It is just one thing after another: No breaks, no breaks,” Global Response Management director of strategic planning and nurse practitioner Andrea Leiner said in the report. The group has been providing important services to asylum-seekers at the camp for some time now. “There is a real concern for frostbite, hyperthermia,” she continued in the report. “With people anticipating that Friday is going to open to [Remain in Mexico] crossings, people don’t want to move to a shelter with a roof. They are afraid they will lose their spot in the [Remain in Mexico] line.”
While advocates welcomed the news that the U.S. would begin processing asylum-seekers currently waiting in Mexico, they also remained deeply concerned about families that had already been unjustly turned away by the previous administration without a fair chance to fight for their cases.
“We saw [people] turned away at [ports of entry] when they tried to come to court,” Immigrant Defenders Law Center executive director and immigration attorney Lindsay Toczylowski said according to New Republic. “We saw parents forced to decide whether to leave their babies alone in Mexico or risk [deportation] orders. We saw routine and systematic denial of access to counsel for two years. These are not legitimate removal orders. [Remain in Mexico] was never intended to adjudicate asylum claims. By design, it kept [people] in danger to coerce them to give up.”
The previous administration claimed that its policies “closed ... asylum fraud under the old broken system,” but that was a big giant lie. In reality, its policies sought to dismantle the U.S. asylum system entirely. It also knowingly put asylum-seekers in danger in the process. Remember that after publicly defending Remain in Mexico as safe, government counsel admitted in court that the policy is in fact dangerous.
“Under what the officials called ‘phase one,’ asylum-seekers will be tested by an international agency for Covid-19 on the Mexico side of the border, then they will be transferred to one of three ports of entry where they will be processed and allowed to enter the United States as they await their next asylum hearing,” NBC News continued about the new administration’s plan. The report said that asylum-seekers will not be detained upon entry to the U.S., and will instead be enrolled in "alternatives to detention."
Under one such Obama-era pilot, Family Case Management Program (FCMP), nearly all asylum-seekers made their immigration check-ins and court dates, but the policy was terminated by the prior administration. Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s new legislation ending the federal government’s use of private prisons would also terminate family detention in favor of alternatives to detention.
In a statement received by Daily Kos, the Southern Poverty Law Center called the start of a wind-down for Remain in Mexico a “critical step,” and urged the Biden administration a redress for asylum-seekers unjustly denied a fair chance at safety by the prior administration.
“It’s commendable that the Biden administration is following through on its commitment to end this policy and address the humanitarian crisis it has created at the border,” senior supervising attorney Melissa Crow said. “But the administration must work to expand this effort to ensure that everyone affected by this policy has a meaningful opportunity to present their asylum claim—including people who received removal orders without even being able to attend their hearings and those with pending appeals.”
“This unlawful and callous policy has deprived countless people of a meaningful opportunity to seek protection,” she continued. “We will move closer to a just, humane and functional immigration system when relief is extended to all who have been harmed.”