Biden administration still seeking agreement from Mexico on return of asylum seekers

Migrants, mostly Haitians, wait outside a stadium to apply for humanitarian visas issued by Mexican authorities to be able to cross through Mexican territory to reach the US border, in Tapachula, Mexico November 24, 2021. ― Reuters pic
Migrants, mostly Haitians, wait outside a stadium to apply for humanitarian visas issued by Mexican authorities to be able to cross through Mexican territory to reach the US border, in Tapachula, Mexico November 24, 2021. ― Reuters pic

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MEXICO CITY, Nov 25 ― The Biden administration and Mexico's government have still not come to an agreement on the reinstatement of a Trump-era programme that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US court hearings, two Mexican government officials said yesterday.

The news outlet Axios reported earlier yesterday that returns under the programme, which forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US immigration hearings, could restart as soon as next week.

The US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it was working on resuming the programme "as promptly as possible" but cannot do so without "independent agreement from the Government of Mexico."

The two Mexican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks were ongoing to determine under what terms the United States could begin returns.

Mexico is insisting the United States provide more aid against Covid-19 for the migrants such as vaccinations, more legal aid for asylum seekers, and acceleration of hearings for those who participate in the returns programme, one senior Mexican official said.

The Biden administration ― promising to undo some of the hard-line immigration policies of former President Donald Trump ― ended the policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols. It forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings before US immigration judges.

But a federal judge ordered the administration to restart the programme, saying it had failed to follow proper regulatory procedure. The US Supreme Court in August rejected an administration appeal of the lower court's ruling.

Late last month, the administration made a renewed attempt to end the programme, hoping to address the judge's concerns. But at the same time, the administration has said it is taking steps to comply with that court's order.

Immigration advocates have said the programme exposed migrants to violence and kidnappings in dangerous border cities, where people camped out for months or years in shelters or on the street waiting for US asylum hearings.

In the negotiations, Mexico has wanted to ensure that the returns are carried out in a more controlled fashion and that migrants who were particularly vulnerable will be excluded, the Mexican officials added.

The two Mexican officials also said the Mexican government is trying to secure a US commitment to provide additional support for international organisations that help look after migrants and shelters along the US-Mexico border. When the programme was in place under Trump, a sprawling, makeshift camp sprung up on the Mexican side of the border in the dangerous city of Matamoros.

In its report, Axios cited a Homeland Security official as saying the policy will initially be reinstated in El Paso and Brownsville, Texas, as well as in San Diego. Axios said the Biden administration will offer asylum seekers the option of receiving a Covid-19 vaccine.

Though Biden has sought to reverse some Trump-era immigration policies like this one, he has kept in place a sweeping expulsion policy initiated at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. That policy turns most migrants caught crossing the border away without giving them a chance to apply for asylum at all. ― Reuters

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