25 asylum-seekers released in US

Friday, February 19, 2021
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A girl from Honduras pushes a broom at a shelter for migrants waiting to cross into the United States, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. AP PHOTO

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. government on Friday released 25 asylum-seekers into the country with notices to appear in court, ending their long waits in Mexico and marking a milestone in unraveling a key immigration policy of former President Donald Trump.

The asylum-seekers tested negative for COVID-19 in Mexico and were taken to San Diego hotels to quarantine before they take a plane or bus to their final destinations in the U.S., said Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is playing a critical support role.

Hopkins said the U.S. is expected to release 25 people a day in San Diego who were enrolled in Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program, which forced people seeking protection in the U.S. to wait south of the border until their court hearings. Authorities can process up to 300 asylum-seekers a day at the San Diego border crossing, but Hopkins said it’s not known when they will change the target of 25 a day.

People also are expected to be let into the country starting Monday in Brownsville, Texas, and next Friday in El Paso, Texas.

Jewish Family Service, operating under a coalition of nongovernmental groups called the San Diego Rapid Response Network, will provide hotel rooms, arrange transportation and perform health screenings, Hopkins said. Jewish Family Service will buy bus or plane tickets if asylum-seekers can’t afford them and winter clothes if needed.

Friday’s arrivals are the first of an estimated 25,000 people with active cases in the Remain in Mexico program and several hundred who are appealing decisions. U.S. officials are warning people not to come to the U.S.-Mexico border and to register on a website that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is launching early next week.

While the arrivals begin to return the asylum system to the way it worked for decades, there are unanswered questions, including how Central Americans who returned home will get back to the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s also unclear how long it will take to work through all the cases, with the oldest going first.

President Joe Biden is quickly making good on a campaign promise to end the policy known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which Trump said was critical to reversing a surge of asylumseekers that peaked in 2019. The program exposed people to violence in Mexican border cities and made it extremely difficult for them to find lawyers and communicate with courts about their cases.

About 70,000 asylum-seekers were part of the program since it started in January 2019. Asylum-seekers whose cases were dismissed or denied are not eligible to return to the country, but U.S. officials have not ruled out some form of relief later.

The Biden administration, which stopped enrolling new arrivals on its first day, said last week that asylum-seekers with active cases would be released in the United States with notices to appear in immigration courts closest to their final destinations. It brought huge relief to those who are eligible, while U.S. and U.N. officials urged against a rush to the border.

Edwin Gomez, who said his wife and 14-year-old son were killed by gangs in El Salvador after he couldn’t pay extortion fees from his auto repair shop, was eager to join his 15-yearold daughter in Austin, Texas. She already won asylum and is living with family.

“Who thought this day would come?” Gomez, 36, said Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexico, at a border crossing with San Diego. “I never thought it would happen.”

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