Biden administration to allow 25,000 asylum-seekers to cross US-Mexico border while cases are pending

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Around 25,000 asylum-seekers who were ordered under former President Donald Trump to wait in Mexico while U.S. immigration courts processed their requests will now be allowed to cross the border starting next week, the Biden administration announced Friday. 

The Department of Homeland Security said the change in plans for those currently placed in Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — often referred to as “Remain in Mexico” — will go into effect on Feb. 19. The Trump administration introduced the policy in January 2019 and said it was critical to reversing a surge of asylum-seekers that peaked that year. 

“As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values.” 

In this August 2019 photo, migrants — many of whom were returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s "Remain in Mexico" policy — wait in line to get a meal in an encampment near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. (AP)

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The Biden administration estimates that around 25,000 individuals enrolled in the protocols still have active cases. 

“Individuals should not take any action at this time and should remain where they are to await further instructions,” Homeland Security said Friday. “We will soon announce a virtual registration process that will be accessible from any location.” 

“Individuals outside of the United States who were not returned to Mexico under MPP or who do not have active immigration court cases will not be considered for participation in this program and should await further instructions,” the department added. 

Homeland Security also warned migrants Friday that the announcement “should not be interpreted as an opening for people to migrate irregularly to the United States. 

“Eligible individuals will only be allowed to enter through designated ports of entry at designated times,” it added.  

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Administration officials declined to name the ports of entry out of fear they may encourage a rush of people to those locations, according to The Associated Press. 

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Those who are processed under these new changes will be tested for COVID-19 before entering the U.S., Homeland Security said, yet it is unclear what the protocol will be for those whose results come back positive. Fox News has reached out to The White House for further comment. 

On Biden’s first day in office, Homeland Security had suspended the MPP policy for new arrivals. Since then, some asylum-seekers picked up at the border have been released in the U.S. with notices to appear in court. 

Hearings for people enrolled in “Remain in Mexico” have also been suspended since June due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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Advocates have argued that communication problems, including lack of working addresses in Mexico, caused some to miss hearings and lose their cases as a result. 

Raul Ortiz, deputy chief of the Border Patrol, told the Associated Press Tuesday that more than 3,000 people had been stopped crossing the border illegally in each of the previous 10 days, compared to a daily average of 2,426 in January. 

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About 50 to 80 adults and children have been arriving daily since Jan. 27 at Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which temporarily houses people released by the Border Patrol, said Sister Norma Pimentel, the group’s executive director. The charity tests for COVID-19 and sends anyone who tests positive to a hotel for isolation. 

Jewish Family Service of San Diego housed 191 asylum-seekers the first 10 days of February after they were released by U.S. authorities, up from 144 in January and 54 in December, said Eitan Peled, the group’s border services advocate. They are quarantined in hotels for 10 days. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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