The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it will comply with a court order and reinstate a program to force migrants trying to reach the United States to remain in Mexico while their asylum claims are adjudicated.
The protocol had been deployed under former President Donald Trump but abandoned as unworkable by Homeland Security officials under President Joe Biden.
But in a turnaround stemming from the federal court decision, Homeland Security said it has been “working in good faith” to re-implement the program as the U.S. has been flooded this year with thousands of migrants, mostly from Central America, trying to cross the southwestern U.S. border from Mexico.
Homeland Security said it had addressed “humanitarian concerns” raised by Mexico and shared by the U.S. and that it would restart the remain-in-Mexico program as soon as Mexico agrees to accept the return of the migrants.
Under the new plan, the U.S. promised that asylum decisions would be reached within six months of an individual’s return to Mexico. The U.S. said the migrants would be able to meet with lawyers before and during their hearings on whether they will have to return to their home countries, where some migrants have contended they face persecution.
Homeland Security said it will “exclude particularly vulnerable individuals from being enrolled” in the return-to-Mexico program.
Before agreeing to comply with the court order, Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas had repeatedly argued that the Trump-era plan had “endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration.”
Republican critics of the Biden administration claim it has been lax in dealing with the record number of migrants reaching the border and trying to enter the U.S., a potent political headache for Democrats as they try to retain their narrow edge in Congress in next November’s nationwide congressional elections.
Now, however, Homeland Security said it would work with Mexico “to ensure that there are safe and secure shelters” for the migrants, that they have safe transportation to U.S. entry points and that they can seek work permits, get health care and other services in Mexico.