Biden Administration to Process 25,000 Asylum Seekers Trump's Kept in Mexico Over Next 90 Days

The White House unveiled new plans to get its arms around one of the thorniest issues facing President Joe Biden left behind by his predecessor: the processing of thousands of immigrants seeking asylum to the U.S. who Donald Trump forced to remain in Mexico.

Executed in phases, the initiative will begin with the processing of the 25,000 asylum seekers who have active court cases in the country. The Biden administration believes they will be able to process 300 individuals a day at two of three ports along the border starting on February 19. Those who waited the longest would be served first, although especially vulnerable people could be fast tracked. That would mean the first group of migrants would be brought into the country in roughly the next 90 days.

"As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system," said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. "This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation's values. Especially at the border, however, where capacity constraints remain serious, changes will take time. Individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border. Due to the current pandemic, restrictions at the border remain in place and will be enforced."

The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak is a complicating factor in implementing the plan.

The Department of Homeland Security said they will announce a virtual registration process accessible from anywhere, which will tell asylum seekers when and where to show up to begin the process of entering the country. That virtual signup will also include registration with international organizations that will test them for the coronavirus. A positive test would trigger individuals having to continue their wait in Mexico until they test negative.

Announced in January 2019, Trump's Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP)—known as the Remain in Mexico policy—kept 65,000 migrants waiting for their court cases in Mexico, although the number of those still in Mexico is believed to be much lower with so much time passing. International organizations criticized the policy as inhumane because it left Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty without shelter and exposed them to violence in Mexico.

The Biden administration said migrants "outside of the United States who were not returned to Mexico under MPP or who do not have active immigration court cases will not be considered for participation in this new program and should await further instructions."

Once in the country, U.S. officials said asylum seekers will be monitored through "alternatives to detention," which has been roundly criticized by immigration activists, but did not go into further details. NBC News reported that past alternatives to detention have included ankle monitors and routine check-ins to ensure migrants show up for their scheduled court hearing.

Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, whose group has done bipartisan immigration work in the past bringing together faith, law enforcement and business leaders, said this is the right way to carefully and incrementally reopen the border for families who are seeking protection.

"They're doing the COVID testing, making sure there's infrastructure on the U.S. side, the alternatives to detention are a smart use of enforcement resources, and they're not setting an expectation of doing everything overnight," he said.

Mexico asylum seekers
Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to get to El Paso, state of Texas, US, From Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico on February 5, 2021. HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images/Getty