Starting tomorrow, the Trump administration will begin implementing a policy that will radically change the process of applying for asylum in the U.S. Some asylum seekers will now be forced to wait for their asylum cases in Mexico rather than inside the U.S. Reuters first reported on the new policy, which was only released by the Department of Homeland Security at 10 pm tonight.
The policy, previously known as the Remain in Mexico policy, and now dubbed Migrant Protection Protocols, will apply to Central American migrants, not to Mexicans. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the policy wouldn’t apply to minors or certain vulnerable populations.
It’s unclear what will happen to asylum seekers who are returned to Mexico. It could be months or years until these migrants cases are heard by courts in the U.S. There’s currently a backlog of 800,000 cases in U.S. immigration courts.
Migrant Protection Protocols will initially take effect at the San Ysidro border crossing, meaning that it will apply to asylum seekers going through the legal process to enter the country. Many of those crossing at San Ysidro have already waited months for their turn to be admitted to the U.S.
A DHS official told Vox that starting on Friday, people who enter the San Ysidro port without papers will be screened as usual by CBP officers (who check migrants’ identities and perform medical screenings, among other tasks). Instead of being held in CBP custody and then transferred to ICE custody, however, the government will just give them a notice to appear before an immigration judge — skipping the step of an asylum screening interview — 45 days in the future.
When the court date arrives, the migrant will return to the port of entry and be escorted to an immigration courthouse in San Diego for the hearing, then returned to Mexico afterward for another wait before another hearing.
DHS anticipates that it will take multiple hearings to resolve a case, but is hoping that cases will be completed within a year.
If migrants tell a U.S. official that they are afraid of persecution in Mexico, they will be given a screening interview using the higher-than-usual standard of a “reasonable fear of persecution” to determine if they are at risk. If the official decides they meet that requirement, they’ll be allowed into the country.
There’s a lot of concern from immigrant advocates that migrants seeking asylum will not be safe in Mexico. Mexico said previously in negotiations over the policy that they wouldn’t allow asylum seekers who are at risk of persecution to stay in the country. In December, the same week that Kirstjen Nielsen announced the new policy, two Honduran teens who were waiting in Tijuana to apply for asylum were killed.
The policy will go into effect tomorrow, which means it won’t be shut down by a court ruling before its implemented. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be challenged and stopped in the future.
Update, 11:05 pm: DHS has released an announcement about the new protocol on their website, hours before the policy will go into effect. The statement is full of dubiously sourced “facts” backing up the administration’s decision to change their policy.
“Misguided court decisions and outdated laws have made it easier for illegal aliens to enter and remain in the U.S. if they are adults who arrive with children, unaccompanied alien children, or individuals who fraudulently claim asylum,” one line reads.
The announcement refers to a “dramatic increase in illegal immigration,” a claim that isn’t backed up by facts.
As far as what will happen to the migrants when they are sent back to Mexico, the announcement provides no details. “Mexico will provide them with all appropriate humanitarian protections,” it says.