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US Formally Ends Policy Requiring Asylum-Seekers to Wait in Mexico

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Cruz Estuardo Tunpumay, left, a 32-year-old migrant from Guatemala, stands among other asylum-seekers on May 20, 2021, at a Mexican government facility in Tijuana, just before crossing to the United States for his asylum process. Cruz left Guatemala in March 2019 and is heading to Los Angeles where he hopes to find a job as soon as authorities allow him to, so he can send money back to his family. (Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration on Tuesday formally ended a Trump-era immigration policy that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court.

seven-page memo by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas marked the end of the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which returned about 70,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico since its implementation in January 2019.

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The announcement appeared to be a foregone conclusion after President Biden promised as a candidate to end the policy, known informally as “Remain in Mexico,” and halted it on his first day in office. But he left a window open by ordering a review before shutting it down permanently.

In the memo, Mayorkas said keeping the policy intact or modifying it “would not be consistent with this Administration’s vision and values and would be a poor use of the Department’s resources,” and its costs would far outweigh any benefits.

The policy coincided with a sharp decline of asylum-seekers at the border, but critics noted that people seeking entry into the U.S. were hampered by violent conditions in Mexico, lack of access to lawyers and difficulty making it to court. Mayorkas acknowledged those concerns by noting the high rate of denied claims for failing to appear in court and the lack of housing, income and safety in Mexico.

Since Feb. 19 of this year, about 11,200 people with active cases have been allowed to return to the United States to wait for a ruling, a process that can take years in the backlogged court system. The administration has yet to say if tens of thousands more whose cases were either dismissed or denied will get another chance.

The administration has largely kept in place pandemic-related powers introduced by former President Donald Trump in March 2020, to expel people to Mexico without an opportunity to seek asylum, which he justified on grounds of protecting public health. Mayorkas acknowledged planning for those pandemic-related powers to be lifted but was light on specifics.

The secretary pointed to a new docket in immigration court announced Friday that aims to decide asylum cases at the border within 300 days. He promised “additional anticipated regulatory and policy changes," but did not elaborate.

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