Biden to Replace Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' Policy, Accept Asylum Seekers

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The Biden administration will begin slowly admitting into the U.S. asylum seekers who were turned away by the Trump administration under the so-called Remain in Mexico policy, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.

The estimated 25,000 migrants waiting at the southern border who have active cases under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, or MPP, will be the first processed into the U.S. Other asylum seekers, such as those who arrived once the U.S. stopped processing asylum applications at ports of entry because of the Covid-19 pandemic, must continue to wait.

The Trump administration began the MPP program in January 2019, turning aside asylum seekers and making them stay in Mexico for the duration of their U.S. immigration court proceedings. The new policy marks a change of approach under President Joe Biden, who has sought to undo President Donald Trump’s strict immigration policies.

“This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values. Especially at the border, however, where capacity constraints remain serious, changes will take time,” Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s Homeland Security secretary, said in a press release.

Two ports of entry will serve as the primary processing points for migrants with MPP cases. The officials did not indicate which ports, hoping, they said, to prevent a surge.

Mayorkas said in an interview on MSNBC Friday that “it’s going to take time” to begin admitting the migrants and urged them to be patient.

“We are starting from square one,” he said. “It’s not turning on a light switch.”

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador applauded the decision, but urged Biden to go further by vastly expanding U.S. work visas.

“Instead of migration through illegality, which is what has been happening, they can seek a mechanism to grant visas for workers, legalize all migration flows,” he said. “So there’s still more to do.”

Biden has proposed a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration law that includes a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country without authorization. But the plan is regarded as unlikely to pass in the Senate, where Republicans hold half the seats. Most GOP lawmakers deride proposals to legalize undocumented immigrants as an improper “amnesty.”

Shortly after the changes go into effect on Feb. 19, the administration estimates it will be able to process about 300 people per day at each port of entry, a Homeland Security official said at a press briefing on Thursday night.

Individuals will be tested for the coronavirus before entry, and will be released into the U.S., the Homeland Security officials said. International and nongovernmental organizations will be doing much of the work in Mexico to help triage MPP participants based on their date of enrollment and vulnerabilities. The organizations will also administer the coronavirus testing, though the U.S. will pay for it, one official said.

“Individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border. Due to the current pandemic, restrictions at the border remain in place and will be enforced,” Mayorkas said in the press release.

Admitting people from the MPP program is the first step as the new administration tries to create legal pathways to entry into the U.S.

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