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US revives Trump-era border program forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico

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December 2 (Reuters) – Biden administration to re-launch controversial Trump-era border program that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration hearings, per court order federal government, US and Mexican officials said Thursday.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, fought in his first year in office to overturn many harsh immigration policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and faces a record number of migrant arrests at the US-Mexico border.

Biden ended Trump’s policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) shortly after his inauguration in January as part of a pledge to implement what he called a more humane approach to immigration. But a federal judge ruled that Biden’s annulment had not followed the proper procedure and in August ordered the policy to be reinstated. The US government has said it must wait for Mexico’s agreement before restarting the MPP.

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“The United States has accepted all of the conditions that we have set,” said a Mexican official.

The United States will take action to address Mexico’s humanitarian concerns about the program, US and Mexican officials said, including offering COVID-19 vaccines to returning migrants and exempting more categories of people deemed vulnerable.

Migrants will also be asked if they fear persecution or torture in Mexico before being enrolled in the program and whether they have access to legal representation, US officials said on a call with reporters Thursday. .

Immigration advocates say the MPP exposed migrants to violence and kidnappings in dangerous border towns, where people were camping while awaiting their hearings.

Any migrant from the Western Hemisphere could be placed in the reworked MPP program, one of the U.S. officials said. The number of Haitians and Venezuelans captured at the US-Mexico border has jumped in the past year, adding to the large number of Mexican and Central American migrants.

At the same time, the Biden administration is still trying to end the MPP program, issuing a new cancellation note in the hope that it will resolve the court’s legal problems.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in October that the Trump program had “endemic flaws” and “unjustifiable human costs”.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has called for an end to the program, saying it puts asylum seekers at risk and violates their due process rights.

“The announced policy adjustments are not sufficient to address these fundamental concerns,” UNHCR Representative Matthew Reynolds said in a statement.

A member of the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue (BORSTAR) unit observes the border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, United States, July 15, 2021. REUTERS / Jose Luis Gonzalez

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Politics have been the cornerstone of Trump’s immigration crackdown. During his administration, tens of thousands of people who entered the US-Mexico land border were sent back to Mexico to wait months – sometimes years – to present their cases at US immigration hearings held in jurisdictions. Makeshift courtrooms near the border. Many migrants did not appear in court amid long delays and dangers in Mexico.

The MPP program will restart on Monday, likely with a small number of migrants at a single U.S. border post, one of the U.S. officials said. Returns to Mexico will ultimately take place at seven border crossings in California, Arizona and Texas, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

CONFUSING MIX

The MPP’s reestablishment adds to a confusing mix of immigration policies in place at the US-Mexico border, where arrests hit a record 1.7 million in fiscal 2021, which ended in September.

Even though Biden tried to end the MPP, his administration continued to implement a Trump-era public health order known as Title 42, which allows border officials to quickly deport migrants without giving them the possibility of applying for asylum.

Almost two-thirds of migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border during the fiscal year were deported under the Title 42 order.

Now, migrants captured at the US-Mexico border will be assessed to determine whether they can be expeditiously deported under Title 42, a US official said. Those who cannot be deported will either be returned to Mexico with an MPP hearing date, or released or detained in the United States.

Exceptions will be made for migrants with health problems, the elderly and those at risk of discrimination in Mexico, including on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, another US official said.

The United States and Mexico will organize transport for migrants waiting in Mexican shelters so that they can attend their hearings in the United States, another US official said.

But local officials in Mexico said many border shelters are already full and overwhelmed. Mexico is also in trouble with makeshift settlements for migrants that sprang up along the border last year.

Migrants with cases in the Texas towns of Laredo and Brownsville will be placed in shelters further away from the US-Mexico border to avoid security risks in the Mexican border towns of Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, the US official said.

The Biden administration will dedicate 22 immigration judges to hearing MPs’ cases to ensure they are resolved within 180 days, another U.S. official said.

A Mexican official said the government expected, under the revised MPP program, that 10 to 15 percent of people crossing the border would eventually return to the United States for a court hearing.

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Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington and Dave Graham in Mexico; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney

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