The US begins accepting asylum seekers blocked by Trump and hundreds are ready for Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Migrants, mostly asylum seekers, who were sent back to Mexico from the US under the Remain in Mexico program officially called Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), are held at a makeshift campsite near the Rio Bravo in Matamoros seen

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By Mimi Dwyer and Ted Hesson

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) – The United States will begin rolling back on Friday one of former President Donald Trump’s toughest immigration policies to enable the first of thousands of asylum seekers to be forced to wait for their cases in Mexico .

President Joe Biden promised during his campaign to immediately repeal Trump policies known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). As part of the program, more than 65,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers were refused entry and sent back across the border pending court hearings. Most returned home, but some remained in Mexico in sometimes poor or dangerous conditions, prone to kidnapping and other violence.

Now they are allowed to wait in the USA until their applications are heard in the immigration courts. Efforts will start slowly as limited numbers of people will be admitted to the San Ysidro, California port of entry on Friday.

It will expand to two more ports of entry in Texas in the coming week, including one near a migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The government estimates that only 25,000 of the 65,000+ people enrolled in MPPs have active immigration lawsuits left and that group is expected to process on Friday. However, it has been suggested that the effort will take time.

Biden officials estimate they will process 300 people a day in two ports.

The Biden government is proceeding cautiously, fearing that the policy change could encourage more migrants to migrate to the US-Mexico border. US officials say anyone who wants to enter and is not a member of the MPP program will be expelled immediately.

A group of Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Biden on February 10, saying allowing MPP migrants to enter the United States “sends the signal that our borders are open”.

The United States, Mexico and international organizations have spent the past few days trying to figure out how to register migrants online and over the phone, transport them to the border, test for COVID-19, and get them to their destinations in the United States with the effort said .

The fast process and lack of information from US officials have frustrated some proponents willing to support the effort.

The situation has become more urgent as a winter storm caused freezing temperatures in much of the southern United States and northern Mexico.

Migrants in the sprawling Matamoros camp have reported that children and families have difficulty staying warm in makeshift tents without insulation or other protection from the cold. The camp has grown in recent weeks as migrants await the end of the MPP program, but the DHS has announced that processing there won’t start until February 22nd.

On Thursday, Honduran asylum seeker Antonia Maldonado served hot chocolate from a steaming pot on a stove top in a washing machine to other asylum seekers in Matamoros, who were shivering in almost freezing weather.

She took farewell photos and made plans to leave with her partner Disón Valladares, an asylum seeker she met on the trip to Matamoros.

“He wants me to go first and I want him to go first,” she said. They hope they can get married after entering the United States.

According to Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy advisor with the Pro-Immigrant American Immigration Council, asylum seekers may not be able to resolve their cases for years due to closings of the COVID-related immigration court and existing backlogs.

The delay would give the Biden administration time to reverse some Trump policies that should make it harder to get asylum, he said.

In the meantime, migrants to the US are being released and enrolled in so-called “alternatives to detention” pending their hearings, a US official said last week. Such programs may include checking in with immigration authorities as well as monitoring anklets.

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