San Diego’s immigration court has been assigned more asylum cases of people returned to Mexico under a federal program than any other immigration court in the border, according to data released Monday by researchers at Syracuse University.
As of the end of July — the latest month from which data is available — approximately 26,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings under the Migrant Protection Protocols program, more commonly known as Remain in Mexico.
A report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, shows that more than 11,800 people were returned to Mexico in July alone. That is a dramatic increase from the 5,800 migrants returned in June.
That growth is largely attributed to the fact that two new hearing locations — Brownsville and Laredo, Texas — were added to the Remain in Mexico program in July.
Under the Remain in Mexico program, migrants who present themselves at a legal port of entry and ask to enter the U.S. because they fear being persecuted back home are returned to Mexico to wait for their hearing in immigration court.
Previously, those people would wait in the United States either in a detention center, or with family or friends already living in the U.S.
The Trump administration implemented the program to discourage people from filing false asylum claims in order to get into the country and then skip out on their court hearing.
Of the roughly 26,000 people sent back to Mexico between January and July, approximately 10,800 were assigned to San Diego’s immigration court, according to data from TRAC.
The second-busiest court was El Paso with about 10,600 assigned cases.
San Diego’s immigration court has struggled to keep up with the increased caseload from the Remain in Mexico program.
Immigration judges there were recently asked by the federal government to prioritize Remain in Mexico cases by postponing any other immigration case in their docket until the end of October. That means people who already had hearings scheduled in the court will now have to wait for the next available court date — which could be as late as 2021.
TRAC’s data also shows that Central Americans make up the majority of people in the Remain in Mexico program. Of the 26,000 people in the program as of July, roughly 9,300 are from Guatemala and 8,800 are from Honduras.
The United States and Guatemala recently signed a controversial “Safe Third Party” agreement in which asylum seekers traveling from Central America to the United States would first have to ask for protection in Guatemala.
One of the main criticisms of that agreement is that Guatemala is not a safe country because so many people are fleeing from violence there.
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