For the first time on Friday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials began turning asylum seekers around in Arizona and sending them back to Nogales, Mexico, to await court hearings they now have to obtain on their own.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the move expands the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program.
The White House adopted the policy a year ago in order to deal with a surge of tens of thousands of migrants from mostly Central American nations who were arriving at the southern U.S. border.
The Border Patrol, which handles law enforcement at ports of entry, said it has returned to Nogales 18 migrants who crossed into the U.S. on Thursday, the WSJ reported. Their immigration court dates were set in El Paso, Texas.
Since the end of November some 600 asylum seekers crossing into illegally into the U.S. near Tucson, Ariz., were taken by U.S. authorities aboard buses to El Paso, where they were returned across the border Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and given court dates often months into the future.
But that’s not odd, say immigration court watchers, noting that hearings are backed up by the tens of thousands and cases often take more than two years to adjudicate.
Now, however, under the new policy, migrants returned to Nogales must find their own transportation to attend asylum hearings.
Immigrant rights groups have complained about the Remain in Mexico policy and are challenging it in federal court.
“This is a new level of logistical impossibility being put in front of people already facing just a litany of due-process violations preventing them from following through with their asylum claims,” Ian Philabaum, an attorney with the Innovation Law Lab, which is suing the Trump administration over the legality of Remain in Mexico, told the WSJ.
A decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected soon.
Roy Villareal, the Tucson sector chief for U.S. Border Patrol said the change would save the agency money. He added that it would also free up his agents to return to the work of apprehending migrants.
“Operationally, the more agents I can get back into enforcement roles, the more impact that will have,” he said.