The United States was expected to send a first group of 20 Central American asylum seekers back to Mexico through the border city of Tijuana on Friday as part of President Donald Trump’s hardening of longstanding U.S. immigration policy, Reuters reported.
Under a policy dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols, announced on December 20, the United States will return non-Mexican migrants who cross the U.S. southern border back to Mexico while their asylum requests are processed in U.S. immigration courts.
Mexican Foreign Ministry spokesman Roberto Velasco said U.S. authorities were expected to send the first group of 20 Central American asylum seekers back to Mexico’s territory on Friday through Tijuana, but as of about 7:00 p.m. local time there were no reports of the group crossing the border.
The spokesman told local broadcaster Radio Formula that Mexican officials had not yet been given the list of people in the first group, which he said was supposed to be provided Friday morning, adding that he still expected the first transfer in the “next few hours.”
Under the policy, U.S. authorities will send as many as 20 people per day through Tijuana and gradually start sending people back through the other legal ports of entry along the Mexican border, Velasco said earlier in the day.
Mexico will accept the return of certain individuals who have a date to appear in a U.S. immigration court, but will reject those who are in danger in Mexican territory, suffering health problems, or are unaccompanied minors.
Velasco previously said that Mexico does not have a “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the United States, which would “imply a binding commitment to process in our territory all U.S. asylum requests of migrants that pass through our country and take full responsibility for their legal situation.”
Asylum seekers have traditionally been granted the right to stay in the United States while their cases were decided by a U.S. immigration judge, but a backlog of more than 800,000 cases means the process can take years.
Now, the U.S. government says migrants will be turned away with a “notice to appear” in immigration court. They will be able to enter the United States for their hearings but will have to live in Mexico in the interim. If they lose their cases, they will be deported to their home countries.
“Shelters are at capacity and we can’t receive migrants that are being deported or (Mexican) nationals that are passing through the city. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen,” said Jose Maria Garcia, who runs the Juventud 2000 shelter in Tijuana.
Leopoldo Guerrero, Tijuana’s secretary of government, said Mexico’s federal government should take responsibility for the migrants, stressing that the city did not have the resources to do so, Reuters adds.