Of­fi­cial: US plans to ex­pel more asy­lum seek­ers

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY COLLEEN LONG

Bor­der of­fi­cials are aim­ing to more than quadru­ple the num­ber of asy­lum seek­ers sent back over the southern bor­der each day, a ma­jor ex­pan­sion of a top govern­ment ef­fort to ad­dress the swelling num­ber of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans ar­riv­ing in the coun­try, a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said Satur­day.

It was the lat­est at­tempt to ease a strain­ing im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that of­fi­cials say is at the break­ing point. Hun­dreds of of­fi­cers who usu­ally screen cargo and ve­hi­cles at ports of en­try were re­as­signed to help man­age mi­grants. Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen asked for vol­un­teers from non-im­mi­gra­tion agen­cies within her depart­ment, sent a let­ter to Congress late this past week re­quest­ing re­sources and broader author­ity to de­port fam­i­lies faster, and she met with Cen­tral Amer­i­can and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials.

The ef­forts are be­ing made while Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is dou­bling down on threats to shut­ter the U.S.Mexico bor­der en­tirely, a move that would have se­ri­ous eco­nomic reper­cus­sions for both the U.S. and Mexico but wouldn’t stop mi­grants from cross­ing be­tween ports.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion

has also moved to cut di­rect aid to El Sal­vador, Gu­atemala and Hon­duras. The State Depart­ment said in a state­ment that it will work with Congress to sus­pend 2017 and 2018 pay­ments to the trio of na­tions, which have been home to some of the mi­grant car­a­vans that have marched through Mexico to the U.S. bor­der.

Right now, about 60 asy­lum seek­ers a day are re­turned to Mexico at the San Ysidro, Calex­ico and El Paso ports to wait out their cases, the of­fi­cial said. They are al­lowed to re­turn to the U.S. for court dates. The plan was an­nounced Jan. 29, par­tially to de­ter false claimants from com­ing across the bor­der. With a back­log of more than 700,000 im­mi­gra­tion cases, asy­lum seek­ers can wait years for their cases to progress, and of­fi­cials say some peo­ple game the sys­tem in or­der to live in the U.S.

Of­fi­cials hope to have as many as 300 peo­ple re­turned per day by the end of the week, fo­cus­ing par­tic­u­larly on those who come in be­tween ports of en­try, said the of­fi­cial, who had knowl­edge of the plans but was unau­tho­rized to speak pub­licly and spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion of anonymity.

But the process so far has been slow-go­ing, and such a size­able in­crease may be dif­fi­cult to achieve. The plan has al­ready been marred by con­fu­sion, sched­ul­ing glitches and an in­abil­ity by some at­tor­neys to reach their clients. In San Ysidro alone, Mexico had been pre­pared to ac­cept up to 120 asy­lum seek­ers per week, but for the first six weeks only 40 peo­ple per week were re­turned.

Plus, U.S. of­fi­cials must check if asy­lum seek­ers have any felony con­vic­tions and no­tify Mexico at least 12 hours be­fore they are re­turned. Those who cross il­le­gally must have come as sin­gle adults, though the ad­min­is­tra­tion is in talks with the Mex­i­can govern­ment to in­clude fam­i­lies. Chil­dren are not re­turned.

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have been grap­pling with an ever-grow­ing num­ber of Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren and fam­i­lies com­ing over the bor­der. Ar­rests soared in Fe­bru­ary to a 12-year-high and more than half of those stopped ar­rived as fam­i­lies, many of them asy­lum seek­ers who gen­er­ally turn them­selves in in­stead of try­ing to elude capture. Gu­atemala and Hon­duras have re­placed Mexico as the top coun­tries, a re­mark­able shift from only a few years ago. Mi­grants from Cen­tral Amer­ica can­not be eas­ily de­ported, un­like peo­ple cross­ing from Mexico.

Mexico has been tread­ing lightly on the sub­ject. Af­ter Trump lashed out, say­ing Mexico and the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tions were “do­ing noth­ing” about il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, Pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his coun­try would do every­thing it could to help to main­tain a “very re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ship” with the U.S. govern­ment and Trump.

Mean­while, Nielsen sent a let­ter to the heads of other agen­cies within her sprawl­ing, 240,000per­son depart­ment, ask­ing for vol­un­teers to help with bor­der du­ties. And she wrote to Congress ask­ing for more tem­po­rary fa­cil­i­ties to process peo­ple, more de­ten­tion space, and the abil­ity to de­tain fam­i­lies in­def­i­nitely and to de­port un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors from Cen­tral Amer­ica. While chil­dren from Mexico can be re­turned over the bor­der, laws pro­hibit de­por­ta­tion to other coun­tries.

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