Border agents in San Diego were explicitly told to target Spanish speakers and people from Latin American countries in carrying out a Trump administration policy mandating certain asylum seekers wait for their court dates in Mexico, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
According to a memo obtained by the news agency from a division chief of the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, the program—which previously only applied to those turning themselves over at official border crossings—was expanded last Friday to include those who cross the border without legal authorization.
The guidance also instructs agents not to send pregnant women, LGBTQ migrants, and people with medical issues to wait in Mexico and to allow them to seek asylum from the U.S.
Another memo released to San Diego Border Patrol leaders on Tuesday said the agency is under “pressures to utilize this program as much as we can.” Two anonymous U.S. officials confirmed the contents of the memos to the AP.
The Trump administration launched what’s formally called the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy in January. Under the order, nationals from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador who present themselves to Customs and Border Protection to seek asylum are given a court date and returned to Mexico for 45 days as they await that date. The policy doesn’t apply to Mexican nationals or unaccompanied children.
The AP notes the explicit targeting of Spanish speakers and Latin American nationals hadn’t been disclosed by the Trump administration, although it comes as no surprise. From the wire service’s report:
Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the criteria “does smack of the same concerns we had in the Muslim ban,” referring to Trump’s ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, which was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court.
“We know they are trying to get at Central American asylum seekers but to see it written there so blatantly is so disturbing,” said Rabinovitz, whose organization was among those that sued the administration last month to block the policy.
According to Tonatiuh Guillen, Mexico’s immigration agency commissioner, Mexico accepted 112 Central Americans during the first five weeks of the policy, including 25 children. Homeland Security has not released its own numbers.
However, an anonymous official speaking to reporters last Friday did say the administration planned to expand the “Remain in Mexico” policy to people crossing into the U.S. without authorization, per the AP. Despite the Border Patrol memo ordering the change to begin that very day, the official had declined to say when it would happen, only saying that it would come in the next few weeks.