Asylum-seekers urged to ‘stay in place’ pending new guidance from White House


Despite Biden's roll back of "Remain in Mexico" policy and unveiling of immigration reform bill, COVID-19 protocols remain in place at U.S.-Mexico border

Migrants part of the Remain in Mexico policy wait at the entrance to the Paso del Norte International Bridge on February 28, 2020, in Ciudad Juárez. – Migrant Protection Protocols, better known as the Remain in Mexico Policy was blocked by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, seeming to halt a policy which drastically reduced the amount of border crossings. However, the court later granted the Trump Administration a stay on the program, for fear of creating an influx on the southern border. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Advocates on both sides of the border are urging would-be migrants to seek reliable advice before venturing to seek entry into the United States.

This, after President Joe Biden issued executive orders rolling back Donald Trump’s signature Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program and unveiling an immigration reform project to legalize up to 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country

“We know people have waited a long time here or have recently arrived with the hope of possible changes to U.S. immigration policy, given the change of administration,” said Enrique Valenzuela, head of a state agency that runs the Migrant Assistance Center in Juarez, Mexico. “However, it’s important for them to know that a change of administration doesn’t imply an immediate change to current immigration policy.”

He urged migrants to not fall prey to scammers who may be telling them that the border is open or to people trying to organize marches to the ports of entry to pressure the U.S. government.

“Experience tells us that such actions don’t work,” Valenzuela said.

On Wednesday, the City of El Paso said its Office of Emergency Management was coordinating with community groups and federal immigration enforcement agencies to prepare for a possible “migrant surge.”

“The proactive preparation have been activated in response to possible immigration policy changes at the federal level, as well as the additional challenges our community is facing, in light of the COVID-19  pandemic,” the city said in a statement. “In previous years, when addressing these types of humanitarian events, the City of El Paso has assisted with transportation, temporary housing, and safety and security support, as outlined by state and federal guidelines.”

Earlier, the head of a migrant advocacy nonprofit in El Paso called on migrants to be well-informed and on advocates and government officials to send a clear message to the community of what has changed and what has not.

“The most important thing is a real clear message of what the process will be for those already in the system […] There has to be a process that needs to be communicated very clearly so they know when and how they can enter the United States,” said Melissa M. Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services.

She also reminded the community that the U.S. remains in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which further complicates entry, detention and/or temporary housing for new migrants. That’s because of social distancing rules and government detention centers where thousands of migrants have either come in with or picked up infections.

And while the MPP program, which forced asylum-seekers to wait for the conclusion of their cases in Mexico, is suspended, the rapid deportation of unauthorized migrants coming over the border apparently remains in place.

The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday issued a statement saying it would cease adding asylum-seekers to the MPP program. However, it said COVID-19 non-essential travel restrictions remain in place and directed MPP participants to remain where they are, pending further official information.

It also warned would-be migrants that individuals outside the United States will not be eligible for legalization, as President Biden’s reform bill only applies to migrants already physically present in the United States.

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