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Central American migrants in Tijuana. Central American migrants in Tijuana.

Mexico will take back migrants awaiting asylum after US changes policy

'Catch and release' will be replaced by 'catch and return,' says Homeland Security Secretary

The United States has found a willing collaborator in Mexico’s new government for its “Remain in Mexico” plan for Central American asylum seekers.

The Secretariat of Foreign Affairs (SRE) announced today that it would take back some non-Mexican migrants who have requested asylum in the United States while they await the outcome of their claims.

The announcement came in response to a major change in United States immigration policy, announced today by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“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,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

“Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico. ‘Catch and release’ will be replaced with ‘catch and return.’ In doing so, we will reduce illegal migration by removing one of the key incentives that encourages people from taking the dangerous journey to the United States in the first place. This will also allow us to focus more attention on those who are actually fleeing persecution,” she added.

The SRE said in a statement the Mexican government will “authorize, for humanitarian reasons and temporarily, the entry from the United States of certain foreign persons that have entered that country through a port of entry or have been apprehended between ports of entry,” adding that they must have already been interviewed by U.S. authorities and given an appointment to appear before an immigration judge.

It added that it will retain the right to reject or admit the entry of foreigners into its territory but its position will nevertheless be seen by many as a major concession to the United States government.

“Mexico’s government has decided to take the following actions to benefit migrants, in particular unaccompanied and accompanied minors, and to protect the rights of those who want to start an asylum process in the United States,” the statement said.

The SRE clarified that the actions taken by the Mexican and United States governments “don’t constitute a safe third country scheme,” in which migrants would have to seek asylum in the United States while in Mexico.

The rights and freedoms of migrants who return to Mexico will be guaranteed, the statement said, and they will have the opportunity to request a work visa.

Just how many migrants will be shipped back to Mexico is unclear but the head of the National Immigration Institute (INM) said his agency would not be able to receive them in the short term.

Tonatiuh Guillén told a press conference today the institute faces two obstacles. It is not only incapable of handling the additional work, he said, but more importantly the initiative falls outside the Immigration Law.

The New York Times reported that Mexico will be forced to house thousands of people from other countries, particularly Central America. However, Foreign Affairs spokesman Roberto Velasco said the new rule applies only to new asylum applicants and not those who have already entered the U.S.

He also observed there was no agreement on the issue between the two countries. Instead, it was “a unilateral move by the United States that we have to respond to.”

Several migrant caravans have crossed Mexico’s southern border over the past two months, bringing thousands of Central Americans to the country. Many are now in Tijuana or other border cities waiting for an opportunity to request asylum in the United States.

United States President Donald Trump bolstered security at the border in response to what he described as an “invasion,” deploying the army and reinforcing the border fence with concertina wire while implementing a daily “metering” system that limits the number of asylum cases U.S. border authorities will hear.

Stranded on the border, an increasing number of migrants have crossed or attempted to cross the border illegally to turn themselves in to border patrol agents and circumvent the lengthy wait for an opportunity to apply for asylum.

The DHS said today that as it implements its new immigration policy “illegal immigration and false asylum claims are expected to decline” as “fraudsters” will be “disincentivized from making the journey” to the United States southern border.

“Precious border security personnel and resources will be freed up to focus on protecting our territory and clearing the massive asylum backlog” and “vulnerable populations will get the protection they need while they await a determination in Mexico,” it added.

But Amnesty International has a different assessment.

A statement from the United States executive director of the organization, Margaret Huang, said that “this deal is a stark violation of international law, flies in the face of U.S. laws passed by Congress, and is a callous response to the families and individuals running for their lives.”

Published under the heading “Remain in Mexico plan could prove deadly to vulnerable families,” Huang’s response continues:

“While mothers, fathers, and children leave everything behind in search of protection, the U.S. and Mexican governments are collaborating to shut down their access to safety. The end result could be the endangerment of thousands of families and individuals seeking protection.

“Make no mistake — Mexico is not a safe country for all people seeking protection. Many people seeking asylum in the United States face discrimination, exploitation, sexual assault, murder, or the possibility of being disappeared while traveling through Mexico or while forced to wait for extraordinarily long times in Mexican border towns. Women, children, and LGBTI people could face heightened and unacceptable risks.”

Source: Reforma (sp), Reuters (en), The New York Times (en)

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