U.S. to Send Asylum Seekers Back to Mexico Amid Migration Battle

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s administration will begin sending Central American migrants to Mexico after they arrive on U.S. soil and request asylum protections, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.

"We are taking lawful, unilateral action to stop illegal entry now," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said as she outlined the new policy for the House Judiciary Committee. "All too frequently, if they say the magic words, they get a free pass into America," she said of Central American migrants.

Trump calls the current practice “catch and release,” because it allows asylum seekers to live in the U.S. for months or years before judges consider their cases. The administration calls its new policy “catch and return,” a Homeland Security official said on a call with reporters.

Mexico has agreed to grant migrants humanitarian visas and the ability to apply for work as they await the resolution of their U.S. immigration cases, the person said. The migrant would have to return to his or her home country if asylum isn’t granted by the U.S.

The Trump administration has asked Congress to take action and, while some Republican lawmakers support overhauling asylum laws, it’s thus far been a non-starter.

The move is Trump’s latest effort to crack down on the flow of Central American migrants into the country as Democratic lawmakers refuse to fund the construction of a border wall. It builds on the administration’s announcement last month that it would allow people to apply for asylum only if they arrive in the country at ports of entry and not if they cross the border through deserts and waterways only to later be apprehended by Customs and Border Protection agents.

Humanitarian groups say the administration hasn’t adjusted its staffing at ports of entry, though, leading to days-long waits in Mexico that are still prompting migrants to try their luck between ports.

The administration didn’t offer a timeline for enacting the new policy sending asylum-seekers back to Mexico, though the official said it wouldn’t be implemented immediately across the entire U.S. southern border.

The Trump administration considers Mexico to be the first safe country that Central American asylum seekers reach while on their land journey north and wants those migrants to seek protection there instead of the U.S.

Many immigration activists do not consider Mexico to be a sufficiently safe harbor for asylum seekers and quickly decried the administration’s announcement.

“U.S. immigration law clearly states that asylum seekers who arrive at our borders can apply for asylum,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense “Many are fleeing their countries to escape violence and persecution. It is unconscionable that the U.S. government would slam the door in their face and force them back to Mexico.”

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