DHS to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico in attempt to end ‘catch-and-release’

December 20, 2018

Asylum-seekers who crossed Mexico to reach the U.S. will be shipped back to Mexico to wait while their cases are being processed, the Trump administration announced Thursday, taking a bold and controversial step to try to head off new waves of illegal immigration.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Mexico is on board, and will offer humanitarian visas and work permits so the migrants can live while they wait for a decision from American authorities.

The administration’s goal is to keep people from abusing the U.S. asylum system by making bogus requests then, after being admitted to wait for a ruling, slipping into the shadows with other illegal immigrants where they are not able to be found and deported after their cases are denied.

“Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates. Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico,” she said in a statement.

She said that should help end the catch-and-release practice that’s enticed a new wave of migrants to make the dangerous trip north, confident of gaining a foothold in the U.S. as their reward.

Ms. Nielsen is acting under a part of the law that’s never been triggered before, but which the administration had long eyed. President Trump had suggested it in one of his first executive orders in January 2017, and news reports had described internal deliberations over the months since.

Mexico had resisted, saying it would not accept people, but that antipathy appears to have changed with new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office earlier this month.

Ms. Nielsen said the two countries are now working cooperatively to stem the flow of people coming from Central America, overwhelming Mexico, then forcing their way into the U.S.

Mexico’s reversal may have been eased by U.S. cash, too. The Mexican and U.S. governments announced earlier this week a $10 billion American investment in nation-building in Central America and southern Mexico, with the money going to finance civic institutions in Central America and economic opportunities throughout the region.

Immigrant-rights activists had feared the U.S. and Mexico would strike a deal, and they complained that making migrants wait in Mexico was cruel and dangerous.

Amnesty International Executive Director Margaret Huang said it violated international conventions and said some of the Central Americans leaving their home countries may not be safe in Mexico.

“As long as Mexico fails in its obligations to protect asylum seekers, families seeking protection would be endangered while in Mexico. The U.S. government must not continue endangering the safety of people who are only trying to rebuild their lives,” she said.

Asylum cases in the U.S. can take years to resolve, with a massive backlog built up as migrants figured out how to game the system. Claims, averaged fewer than 500 a month a decade ago, now near 10,000 a month.

Making migrants wait in Mexico for years could serve as a significant deterrent to those who don’t have valid claims, but were hoping to take advantage of lax enforcement.

Meanwhile, valid asylum-seekers may choose to make their claim in Mexico instead.

A recent report sponsored by the Homeland Security Department suggested most of those coming to the U.S. are doing so because of jobs or family already here not traditional reasons for asylum and are unlikely to want to stay in Mexico.

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