The Columbus Dispatch

Trump immigratio­n policy returns

Biden administra­tion still hopes to scrap it

- Elliot Spagat

SAN DIEGO – The Biden administra­tion struck an agreement with Mexico to reinstate a Trump-era border policy next week that forces asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigratio­n court, U.S. officials said Thursday.

Revival of the “Remain in Mexico” policy comes under a court order even as the administra­tion maneuvers to end it in a way that survives legal scrutiny. President Joe Biden scrapped the policy, but a lawsuit by Texas and Missouri forced him to reinstate it.

About 70,000 asylum-seekers have been subject to the policy, which President Donald Trump introduced in January 2019 and which Biden suspended on his first day in office.

Illegal border crossings fell sharply after Mexico, facing Trump’s threat of higher tariffs, acquiesced in 2019 to the policy’s rapid expansion. Asylum-seekers were victims of violence while waiting in Mexico and faced a slew of legal obstacles, such as access to attorneys and case informatio­n.

Migrants are expected to be returned starting Monday in San Diego and soon after in the Texas crossings in El Paso, Laredo and Brownsvill­e.

Thursday’s announceme­nt followed bilateral negotiatio­ns between the U.S. and Mexico after U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee in Amarillo, Texas, ordered the policy be reinstated, subject to Mexico’s participat­ion. The policy’s new iteration, outlined by administra­tion officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, includes major additions and changes that Mexico demanded.

All migrants subject to the policy will receive the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Children who are eligible under U.S. guidelines will get the Pfizer shot, with second shots when they come to the U.S. for their first hearings.

The U.S. will try to complete cases within 180 days. The Justice Department is assigning 22 immigratio­n judges to work on these cases.

U.S. authoritie­s will ask migrants if they fear being returned to Mexico instead of relying on them to raise concerns unprompted. If they express fear, they will be screened and have 24 hours to find an attorney or representa­tive.

The Biden administra­tion is working to ensure migrants’ safety when they travel to and from court, including within Mexico. Migrants returned from Laredo and Brownsvill­e, where Mexican border cities are especially dangerous, will be moved to locations further inside Mexico.

Migrants from Western Hemisphere countries will be eligible. U.S. officials haven’t said how many will be processed daily. The administra­tion has kept in place another Trump-era policy that allows it to return Central Americans to Mexico on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

It also said that “vulnerable” people should be exempt, including unaccompan­ied children, pregnant women, physically or mentally ill people, older people, indigenous people and members of the LGBTQ community.

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