United States Still Calls for Mexico’s Agreement on Return of Asylum Seekers

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 24 (Reuters) – The Biden administration and Mexico have yet to agree to relaunch a Trump-era program that requires asylum seekers to wait for U.S. court hearings in Mexico because of certain conditions must first be met, two Mexican officials said on Wednesday.

The Axios outlet reported earlier that returns under the program officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) could restart as early as next week. But one of the Mexican officials said a deal was unlikely to be reached this week.

The US Department of Homeland Security said in a statement it was trying to resume the program “as quickly as possible” but could not do so without Mexico’s agreement.

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

Mexico insists Washington provide more support against COVID-19 to migrants, such as vaccinations, more legal aid for asylum seekers and speeded up hearings for those participating in the return program, said a senior Mexican official.

The administration of President Joe Biden, which has vowed to reverse some of the harsh immigration policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, has shut down the MPP. The program keeps asylum seekers in Mexico waiting for hearings before US immigration judges.

But a federal judge ordered the administration to restart the program, saying it did not follow the proper regulatory process. The United States Supreme Court in August dismissed an administration appeal against the lower court’s decision.

At the end of last month, the administration again attempted to terminate the program, hoping to address the judge’s concerns. But he also said he was preparing to comply with the court order.

Biden has come under political and humanitarian pressure on the immigration issue due to an increase in the number of migrants at the US border.

Immigration advocates argue that the MPP program has exposed migrants to violence and kidnapping in dangerous border towns, where people have camped for months or years awaiting US hearings.

During bilateral negotiations, Mexico has sought to ensure that new returns are carried out in a more controlled manner and that particularly vulnerable migrants and unaccompanied minors are excluded, Mexican officials said.

The two officials also said the Mexican government was trying to secure a commitment from the United States to provide additional support to international organizations that help deal with migrants and shelter along the US-Mexico border. When the MPP was in place under Trump, a sprawling camp was set up in the border town of Matamoros, in a region of Mexico plagued by violence.

In its report, Axios quoted a homeland security official as saying that politics would initially be restored in El Paso, Texas, Brownsville, Texas, across from Matamoros and San Diego.

Axios said the Biden administration will give asylum seekers the option of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Although Biden has sought to reverse some Trump-era immigration measures, he has maintained in place a sweeping deportation policy initiated at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This policy rejects most of the migrants caught crossing the border without giving them the slightest chance to seek asylum.

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Reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Mica Rosenberg in New York and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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