The first small group of asylum-seekers to be allowed into the United States under the Biden administration’s recent changes came into the country Friday through a U.S.-Mexico border crossing in south San Diego County.
The asylum-seekers who will be allowed into the U.S. are waiting for courts to decide on their active immigration cases. Now, instead of having to wait in Mexico while their cases are being processed, they will be allowed to wait in the U.S.
Twenty-five asylum seekers who were stuck in Mexico were granted access into the United States on Friday. The group was transported by bus across the U.S. -Mexico border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
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The migrants were tested for COVID-19 at a staging site Mexico before they were allowed to enter the United States. There, they were equipped with face masks that they were told must be worn during staging and transport across the border.
All tested negative, the Associated Press reported.
Upon admittance to the United States, the asylum seekers were taken to San Diego hotels to quarantine before they take a plane or bus to their final destinations in the U.S., said Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is playing a critical support role.
The asylum seekers were given notices to appear in court but immigration attorney Yunuen Mora says not much else is known about how the process will work from there.
"They're not signing up anyone else through the MPP program and now they’re going to have to create regulations as to how we're going to get everyone from the MPP program into the United States," Mora said.
Under former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” immigration policy (MPP) signed in January 2019, there are an estimated 70,000 asylum-seekers stuck in Mexico. The program exposed people to violence in Mexican border cities and made it extremely difficult for them to find lawyers and communicate with courts about their cases.
President Joe Biden vowed to reverse the policy.
U.S. officials said 25,000 of those 70,000 asylum-seekers have active immigration cases and, after going through the proper process, will be allowed into the U.S. under these changes.
The Biden administration has not yet specified which U.S-Mexico border crossings will be used for this, but U.S. officials said two of the crossings can each process about 300 asylum-seekers daily, although the initial groups will be about 25 a day.
The plan will expand into Brownsville, Texas, on Feb. 22 and El Paso, Texas, on Feb. 26.
Those with active cases as well as several hundred asylum-seekers who are appealing decisions should register on a website that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is launching early next week, U.S. officials said.
Asylum-seekers shouldn’t show up at border crossings expecting to come into the U.S. if they’re not among those who have active immigration cases, U.S. officials said. The government sends notifications on where and how to cross to asylum-seekers who are eligible.
The International Organization for Migration, the U.N. migration agency, plans to test asylum-seekers for COVID-19 and will quarantine anyone who tests positive for 10 days before they enter the United States, the Associated Press reports.
Once the first group of asylum-seekers arrives in the U.S. Friday morning, some San Diego-based outreach groups plan to offer help with arranging temporary shelter and transportation. The San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of non-government organizations, is one of them.
Jewish Family Services, a member of the response network, told the Associated Press they would buy bus or plane tickets if asylum-seekers can't afford them and winter clothes if needed.
The busiest border crossing in San Diego County is the San Ysidro Port of Entry, which also, according to the U.S. government, is the busiest land port of entry in the Western Hemisphere. Daily, the San Ysidro Port of Entry processes approximately 70,000 northbound vehicles and 20,000 northbound pedestrians.
NBC 7 and Telemundo 20 news crews were on both sides of the border Friday.
Over at the El Chaparral port of entry on the Tijuana, Mexico, side, several people were lined up early Friday, waiting for a chance to cross the border.
Some were asylum-seekers looking for answers.
“We don’t have any information,” Delis Alvarez, an immigrant from Honduras, told Telemundo 20. “I’m desperate because they keep changing my dates and I’m not getting any answers.
Alvarez told Telemundo 20 she arrived in Mexico with her daughters two years ago and, after three court dates, had still not been able to secure asylum.
Christian Hernandez said he arrived with his wife and three children in Tijuana two years ago, too. He also said the only thing he knew about Friday’s border crossings was that only those who had active court cases would be able to cross.