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Increase in Number of Asylum Seekers Once Sent Back over US Border

It was the latest attempt to ease an immigration system that officials say is at the breaking point

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Migrants from Central America wait inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 29, 2019. VOA

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 an 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 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. His administration also announced it was cutting aid to the Central American countries that are home to most of the migrants.

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A young boy walks near other migrants lying on the ground inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 29, 2019. VOA

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.

300 per day

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 gone slowly, and such a sizable 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.

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FILE – Two men, both of Honduras, walk with attorneys as they cross into the United States to begin their asylum cases, March 19, 2019, in Tijuana, Mexico. VOA

Plus, U.S. officials must check to see whether 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 a 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 pledges help

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.

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Migrants from Central America wait in a line for food inside an enclosure, where they are being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum, in El Paso, Texas, March 29, 2019. VOA

Meanwhile, Nielsen sent a letter to the heads of other agencies within her 240,000-person 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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Democratic congressional leaders expressed deep concern, saying the administration wanted to revive “horrific” and “immoral” plans, noting its failed hard-line border policies have created “senseless heartbreak and horror.”

“Democrats reject any effort to let the administration deport little children, and we reject all anti-immigrant and anti-family attacks from this president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. To Expands Indefinite Detention for Asylum-Seekers

The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together.

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Attorney General William Barr appears before a House Appropriations subcommittee to make his Justice Department budget request, April 9, 2019, in Washington. VOA

The U.S. Attorney General on Tuesday struck down a decision that had allowed some asylum-seekers to ask for bond in front of an immigration judge, in a ruling that expands indefinite detention for some migrants who must wait months or years for their cases to be heard.

The first immigration court ruling from President Donald Trump’s newly appointed Attorney General William Barr is in keeping with the administration’s moves to clamp down on the asylum process as tens of thousands of mostly Central Americans cross into the United States asking for refuge. U.S. immigration courts are overseen by the Justice Department and the Attorney General can rule in cases to set legal precedent.

Barr’s ruling is the latest instance of the Trump administration taking a hard line on immigration. This year the administration implemented a policy to return some asylum-seekers to Mexico while their cases work their way through backlogged courts, a policy that has been challenged with a lawsuit.

Several top officials at the Department of Homeland Security were forced out this month over Trump’s frustrations with an influx of migrants seeking refuge at the U.S. southern border.

U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehend undocumented migrants after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, April 9, 2019.
U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehend undocumented migrants after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, April 9, 2019. VOA

Migrants crossing illegally

Barr’s decision applies to migrants who crossed illegally into the United States.

Typically, those migrants are placed in “expedited removal” proceedings, a faster form of deportation reserved for people who illegally entered the country within the last two weeks and are detained within 100 miles (160 km) of a land border.

Migrants who present themselves at ports of entry and ask for asylum are not eligible for bond.

But before Barr’s ruling, those who had crossed the border between official entry points and asked for asylum were eligible for bond, once they had proved to asylum officers they had a credible fear of persecution.

“I conclude that such aliens remain ineligible for bond, whether they are arriving at the border or are apprehended in the United States,” Barr wrote.

Barr said such people can be held in immigration detention until their cases conclude, or if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides to release them by granting them “parole.” DHS has the discretion to parole people who are not eligible for bond and frequently does so because of insufficient detention space or other humanitarian reasons.

Effective date delayed

Barr said he was delaying the effective date by 90 days “so that DHS may conduct the necessary operational planning for additional detention and parole decisions.”

The decision’s full impact is not yet clear, because it will in large part depend on DHS’ ability to expand detention, said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“The number of asylum-seekers who will remain in potentially indefinite detention pending disposition of their cases will be almost entirely a question of DHS’ detention capacity, and not whether the individual circumstances of individual cases warrant release or detention,” Vladeck said.

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The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together. Pixabay

DHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision. The agency had written in a brief in the case arguing that eliminating bond hearings for the asylum seekers would have “an immediate and significant impact on … detention operations.”

Record detentions

In early March, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for detaining and deporting immigrants in the country illegally, said the average daily population of immigrants in detention topped 46,000 for the 2019 fiscal year, the highest level since the agency was created in 2003. Last year, Reuters reported that ICE had modified a tool officers have been using since 2013 when deciding whether an immigrant should be detained or released on bond, making the process more restrictive.

The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together.

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Michael Tan, from the American Civil Liberties Union, said the rights group intended to sue the Trump administration over the decision, and immigrant advocates decried the decision.

Barr’s decision came after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to review the case in October. Sessions resigned from his position in November, leaving the case to Barr to decide. (VOA)