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Asylum-seekers begin entering US as Biden eases curbs

February 20, 2021

A first group of 25 asylum-seekers crossed the US border Friday under President Joe Biden's sweeping immigration reforms, while thousands more waited in Mexico hoping that they, too, would be allowed in.

Migrants from Central America walk toward a US border patrol vehicle
Migrants from Central America walk toward a US border patrol vehicleImage: Jose Luis Gonzalez/REUTERS

The asylum-seekers were allowed into the US on Friday as part of President Joe Biden's efforts to unwind the Trump administration's restrictive immigration policies.

Under former president Donald Trump's "Remain in Mexico" program, tens of thousands of non-Mexican asylum seekers — mostly from Central America — were sent back over the border pending the outcome of their applications.

Biden's administration moved quickly to start dismantling the controversial policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), with a first stage that began on Friday.

'An important step'

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed their arrival as "an important step in rebuilding" the US asylum system. "But thousands are still suffering right now stuck in limbo under this inhumane policy," ACLU San Diego spokesman Edward Sifuentes said.

According to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there are approximately 25,000 active cases. Mexico says 6,000 remain on its territory.

Life under threat of deportation

The 25 asylum-seekers were allowed to enter in San Ysidro, California, and will now be quarantining at a local hotel, according to Reuters news agency. They were tested for coronavirus before entering. 

There was some confusion over the launching of a website that enables migrants with active cases to register for hearings remotely, to be processed at the US-Mexico border. 

"We have faith in God that we will be allowed in. We have already spent enough time here," Enda Marisol told AP news agency. She has been awaiting her hearing with her 10-year-old son. 

Reversal of Trump policies

Biden began overturning Trump's hardline immigration policies on January 20, his first day in office, when he lifted a travel ban on 13 mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, halted construction of the US-Mexico border wall and reversed other measures.

Democrats on Thursday formally introduced Biden's sweeping immigration bill in Congress, a measure that would provide a path to US citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally.

The Biden administration is treading carefully in its efforts to process asylum-seekers, wary that the policy shift could encourage more migrants to trek to the US-Mexico border. US officials say anyone who seeks to enter and does not have an active MPP case will be immediately expelled.

tg/sri (AP, AFP, Reuters)