PHOENIX – Asylum seekers who enter the United States illegally through the southern border will have to wait in Mexico while their cases make their way through a backlogged immigration court system.
The Trump administration made the announcement late Thursday and with it, a pivot in its asylum policy.
The action, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, will issue prospective migrants a “Notice to Appear,” for their case proceedings.
The Department of Homeland Security emphasized that Mexico will provide them with humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.
Phoenix immigration attorney Judy Flanagan, who handles asylum cases, said the new policy is illegal.
“To say that they have to wait outside for a decision, that is just an absolute violation of federal law,” Flanagan said.
The current immigration-court backlog is nearing 800,000 cases, according to a letter Trump sent to Congress earlier this month. However, only 395 judges are assigned to review all of those cases, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review.
Pastor Angel Campos of the Monte Vista Baptist Church in Phoenix expressed his sorrow for those people who are being sent to Mexico.
“We have the desire to help our brothers, no matter where they’re from, and if they need help, we help them,” Campos said in Spanish, “but outside of that, I have to respect the law.”
Mesa pastor Magdalena Schwartz is a vocal advocate for providing support to asylum seekers. She has been helping migrants for several months. She expected to receive another busload of asylum seekers on Friday.
Campos is still receiving buses filled with asylum seekers multiple times a week.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen issued a statement calling the initiative an “unprecedented action that will address the humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border.”
She added that “the approach will help end the exploitation of our generous immigration laws.”
Flanagan called into question the limited amount of resources Mexico has to support these migrants.
“They don’t even have the resources for their own people,” she said. “Their definition for what shelter is … is inadequate.”
At the Kino Border Initiative, a faith-based nonprofit organization that focuses on helping migrants, director of education and advocacy Joanna Williams explained the organization’s concern from three perspectives: humanitarian, safety, and due process.
Williams said there does not seem to be a concrete plan in place explaining who will offer support to these immigrants. She Central Americans face dangers in Mexico, which brings into focus the reasonable fear standards.
“It could mean that people who have suffered abuse in Mexico have to return – and that can be fatal,” she said.
While migrants await their case proceedings in Mexico, it’s unclear how they will be notified of court appearances or changes to their case without a permanent residence.
U.S. legal counsel is not available in Mexico and the government does not pay for immigration attorneys, Williams said.
Al Otro Lado, a Los Angeles organization that provides legal services to deportees, migrants and refugees, tweeted its reaction to the policy change.
The ‘Remain in Mexico’ plan will be a catastrophe for the US immigration courts, Mexican border cities, and the migrants themselves. Migrants are regularly exploited and killed in Mexico, this plan will make them sitting ducks on the border https://t.co/pwUNGeiOJ5
— Al Otro Lado (@AlOtroLado_Org) January 24, 2019