A group of asylum seekers sent back to Mexico was set to cross the border on Tuesday for their first hearings in U.S. immigration court in an early test of a controversial new policy from the Trump administration.
The U.S. program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), turns people seeking protection in the United States around to wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexican border towns. Some 240 people – including families – have been returned since late January, according to U.S. officials.
Court officials in San Diego referred questions about the number of hearings being held on Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which did not respond to a request for comment. But attorneys representing a handful of clients were preparing to appear in court.
HAPPENING NOW: The first group of asylum seekers returned to Mexico through the new program the “Migrant Protection Protocols” are getting ready to cross back across the border for their first U.S. court hearings in San Diego https://t.co/LGu8Y4kAVZ
— Mica Rosenberg (@micarosenberg) March 19, 2019
Migrants like 19-year-old Ariel, who said he left Honduras because of gang death threats against himself and his family, were preparing to line up at the San Ysidro port of entry first thing Tuesday morning.
Ariel, who asked to use only his middle name because of fears of reprisals in his home country, was among the first group of asylum-seeking migrants sent back to Mexico on Jan. 30 and given a notice to appear in U.S. court in San Diego.
“God willing everything will move ahead and I will be able to prove that if I am sent back to Honduras, I’ll be killed,” Ariel said.
While awaiting his U.S. hearing, Ariel said he was unable to get a legal work permit in Mexico but found a job as a restaurant busboy in Tijuana, which does not pay him enough to move out of a shelter.
“If I continue to stay here, I am going to be killed.”
Immigrants sent back to Mexico under the “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy experience long waits and dangerous conditions as they attempt to navigate their asylum claims.
— Haynes Novick Imm. (@dcimmatty) March 19, 2019
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other advocacy groups are suing in federal court to halt the MPP program, which is part of a series of measures the administration of President Donald Trump has taken to try to curb the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States.
The Trump administration says most asylum claims, especially for Central Americans, are ultimately rejected, but because of crushing immigration court backlogs people are often released pending resolution of their cases and live in the United States for years. The government has said the new program is aimed at ending “the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”
Homeland Security expands program of returning migrants to #Mexico to await hearings @CNNPolitics https://t.co/vaNwczPlQZ – “There is no agreement between the United States and Mexico on the Migrant Protection Protocols…” #Asylum #RemainInMexico #Calexico #Mexicali
— Observa migración (@Observa_Colef) March 18, 2019
Individuals seeking asylum could wait severals months to years in Mexico until their immigration hearing. Mexico could also choose not to allow migrants to stay while awaiting court proceedings. #MPP #Unamerican #MSW52101 https://t.co/kPJeEwU10C via @AddThis
— CariCSUFMSW (@CCsufmsw) March 16, 2019
Reuters contributed to this report.
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