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DHS: Migrants seeking US asylum must now wait in Mexico until hearing

Then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recognizes the 15 year anniversary of the start of DHS mission with a celebration event at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., March 1, 2018. (Department of Homeland Security/Released)
December 20, 2018

The Department of Homeland Security has said that migrants can no longer wait in the U.S. while their asylum applications are processed.

“Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates. Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico. ‘Catch and release’ will be replaced with ‘catch and return,’” said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement on Thursday.

In what Nielsen described as “historic measures” in the enforcement of illegal immigration, the DHS will begin enforcing existing law in a coordinated effort with Mexico.

“Effective immediately, the United States will begin the process of invoking Section 235(b)(2)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the statement added. “Under the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), individuals arriving in or entering the United States from Mexico—illegally or without proper documentation—may be returned to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings.”

Migrants will now be provided with a “Notice to Appear” for their court hearing and will have to remain in Mexico until a judge makes the decision to grant asylum.

“Let me be clear:  we will undertake these steps consistent with all domestic and international legal obligations, including our humanitarian commitments.  We have notified the Mexican government of our intended actions.  In response, Mexico has made an independent determination that they will commit to implement essential measures on their side of the border.  We expect affected migrants will receive humanitarian visas to stay on Mexican soil, the ability to apply for work, and other protections while they await a U.S. legal determination,” Nielsen added.

Nielsen explained that by disallowing migrants to remain in the country during the process, it eliminates migrants’ “key incentives” for coming to the U.S.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry also said Thursday that the policy “will authorize, for humanitarian reasons and temporarily, the entry of certain foreign persons from the United States who have entered the country through a port of entry or who have been apprehended between ports of entry, have been interviewed by the authorities of migratory control of that country, and have received a summons to appear before an immigration judge,” according to the Washington Examiner.

Mexico’s statement said that the process is geared toward protecting the rights of asylum-seekers and will permit them to enjoy the same rights of Mexican citizens regardless of nationality.

The announcement comes as the U.S. faces a massive backlog of asylum applications worsened by the arrival of thousands of Central American migrants to the U.S. border near Tijuana, Mexico.

Currently, 786,000 asylum cases are pending in the U.S., according to the DHS. The agency cited a “2000 percent increase in aliens claiming credible fear” which has exploited the process, as most migrants know that claiming fear will lead to approved asylum applications.