The Trump administration plans to begin sending some asylum seekers back to Mexico to await the resolution of their immigration processing this week, Department of Homeland Security officials said Thursday.
The unnamed officials told NBC News the returns will begin Friday. Another source told The Wall Street Journal the department is working with Mexican immigration officials on how to implement the new system.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the new policy in December as a way to combat what she called a crisis at the border. She said it was meant to prevent the so-called “catch and release” tactic in which immigrants who cross the border illegally are arrested and then released pending a future court date.
A DHS official said Thursday that under the new procedures, immigrants who request asylum will be returned to Mexico with the ability to return in about a month for an appearance in U.S. immigration court. This includes those who cross legally at the San Ysidro port of entry in California.
It’s unclear how many immigrants would be returned to Mexico each day.
Those who appear ill, children without legal guardians and others considered vulnerable will be allowed to remain in the United States while they await court processing.
DHS says the rate of credible fear claims, the first step to asylum, which allow immigrants to stay in the country while their claims are pending, has increased “at an alarming rate” over the last five years and resulted in a backlog of more than 786,000 pending cases.
There has been an increase in recent years of families with children seeking asylum, most from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Border Patrol apprehended 27,000 people in family units, a record number of families in a single month.
In December, Mexico’s foreign ministry said it would allow some asylum seekers back into Mexico while they await court hearings. Those migrants will receive humanitarian visas to live and work there.
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