First Asylum-Seekers Returned from Mexico to Plead to Stay In the US at the U.S. Immigration Court Hearings
A group of asylum-seekers due to be sent back to and detained in Mexico attended their first hearings in U.S. immigration court last week in a bid to ask officials to let them stay in the United States for fear of their lives while waiting out the process in detention in Mexico. The requests were the migrants’ response to President Donald Trump’s new controversial policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which mandates that people seeking protection in the United States would have to wait for their U.S. court dates in Mexican border towns.
Some 240 people – including families – seeking resettlement in the U.S. have been returned to Mexico since late January under the program, according to U.S. officials. Some Central American migrants who crossed from Tijuana through the San Ysidro port of entry had their cases heard at a San Diego courthouse in the program’s first day of hearings last Tuesday. All were told to return to Mexico.
Court officials in San Diego referred questions about the number of hearings being held Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which did not release any comment on the matter. But attorneys representing a handful of clients were preparing to appear in court to argue that their clients’ fears of persecution in their home country are well founded fear and that the situation at the border is quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis.
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Migrants like 19-year-old Ariel, who gave only his middle name, said he left Honduras because of gang death threats against himself and his family. He 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,” he said before the hearing. This asylum seeker clearly feared being persecuted and felt like his only hope was an approved asylum application.
An immigration lawyer in New Jersey may be able to help cases similar to that of Ariel.
U.S. officials have said they are working with the Mexican government to ensure migrants are safe in Mexico, pending scheduled court dates. However, some Mexican officials had voiced out concerns over the capability of the country’s border cities to look after asylum seekers for long periods.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other advocacy groups were suing in federal court to stop the MPP program, which is part of President Donald Trump’s aggressive stand against immigration.
The Trump administration said most asylum claims, especially for Central Americans, are ultimately rejected, but because of current immigration court backlogs, people were often released pending resolution of their cases and lived in the United States for years. The government said the new program was aimed at ending “the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”
Critics of the program said it violated U.S. law and international norms since migrants were sent back to often dangerous towns in Mexico in precarious living situations where it was difficult to get notices about U.S. court date reschedules and even more challenging to get legal assistance.
Immigration advocates were tightly monitoring how the proceedings will be carried out especially after scheduling problems created confusion in previous hearings, San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which runs U.S. immigration courts under the Department of Justice, did not respond to a question about the reported scheduling problems.
Gregory Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there are real concerns about the challenges of carrying out this major shift in U.S. immigration policy.
“The government did not have its shoes tied when they introduced this program,” he said.
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