The Biden administration is preparing plans for the gradual entry of migrants forced to remain in Mexico under a controversial Trump-era policy, according to three Homeland Security officials.
President Joe Biden has committed to ending the policy, informally known as “remain in Mexico.” Over the last week, the administration has been in ongoing discussions about when to start slowly admitting migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, into the US, two officials say.
A draft internal document underscored the importance of taking into account health and safety protocols, according to two Homeland Security officials, and said admissions would likely start at two yet to be announced locations.
No timeline has been set for when the change will take place or how many migrants would initially qualify.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under former President Donald Trump, migrants from Central America and other parts of the world who were seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border were forced to stay in Mexico until their immigration court hearings in the United States. That meant waiting months, if not years, in squalid conditions and under the threat of extortion, sexual assault and kidnapping.
The policy was an unprecedented departure from previous protocols, which allowed for the entry of migrants as they went through their immigration hearings in the United States.
The admission of migrants subject to the Trump-era policy is a complicated endeavor, given the vulnerability of the population and the challenges in communicating process and expectations.
Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas told CNN earlier this month that he’s been involved in discussions about ending the remain in Mexico policy.
“The urgency of that also cannot be overstated,” he said.
Looking for a ‘fair and equitable’ solution
Ongoing discussions have centered around how to find a “fair and equitable way” to start bringing people back to the US, a DHS official said, adding that one option is to put people who were first processed under the program at the front of the line.
That also raises questions about how the US processes new arrivals and what happens to the people who have been waiting for months, the official said, adding that discussions have also taken into account Covid-19 precautions.
Under the Trump administration, there was a working group to assess whether virtual hearings could be conducted for migrants waiting in Mexico, but they never came up with a “workable solution,” the DHS official told CNN.
The pandemic shuttered immigration courts and delayed cases, resulting in migrants staying in Mexico for longer periods and fueling frustration among those waiting for an extended period of time.
The official said that although the “Trump-era program appeared to have a political slant, it was done “out of necessity,” cautioning that if the new administration ends the program and others, the US Border Patrol will likely release more migrants into the US. But immigrant advocates and attorneys have argued that the program put migrants in harm’s way.
In his first hours in office, Biden stopped the enrollment of new migrants to the program.