Migrants heading to the southwest border to seek asylum in the United States will have to wait in Mexico until their claims are processed, under an agreement between the two countries announced on Thursday that will affect tens of thousands of people each month.
Only about 9 percent of people are actually granted asylum. The Trump administration says too many migrants make false claims.
“They will not be able to disappear into the United States,” Nielsen said on Thursday in remarks before the House Judiciary Committee. “They will have to wait for approval. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America. If they are not, they will be removed to their home countries.”
Discussions on the arrangement have been going on between the two countries for months, well before the new leadership took over in Mexico on Dec. 1. On Thursday, the Mexican foreign ministry said Mexico had agreed to it on a temporary basis for humanitarian reasons, and it would affect those “who entered that country or had been apprehended at border entry points, and who have been interviewed by that countrys immigration authorities and who have received a court date to appear before an immigration judge.”
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt said the plan was illegal. “This plan cannot be done lawfully and will result in countless people in life-threatening situations.”
The decision comes as the courts have blocked efforts to harden asylum rules.
Central American migrants gather around a pickup truck where members from a church in Tijuana hand out new clothes and much-needed shoes outside the El Barretal shelter on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Monica Curca, right, founder of the Orange County nonprofit Activate Labs, uses art therapy to help migrants cope with trauma. She sets up what she calls a “Rapid Response Creative Trauma Healing Center” at El Barretal shelter in in Tijuana on Monday, December 3, 2018. Curca designs billboard-sized plastic tarps for young and old to color. The banner will eventually be displayed in D.C. to humanize the migrants. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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La ropa se cuelga para secarla en el refugio El Barretal en Tijuana, donde al menos 1,500 migrantes centroamericanos viven temporalmente el miércoles 5 de diciembre de 2018. (Foto de Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register / SCNG)
Child advocacy workers are on hand at the El Barretal shelter in Tijuana to make sure migrant children are properly being cared for on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A man suns his feet as he sleeps outside the El Barretal migrant shelter in Tijuana on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Migrant children play near their tents outside El Barretal shelter in Tijuana on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Dozens of migrants line up for food and clothing outside the El Barretal shelter in Tijuana on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Thousands of migrants are taking shelter at El Barretal in Tijuana. The inside is dark and features three stories of space with no running water. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Los marines mexicanos montan guardia frente al refugio El Barretal en Tijuana, donde se alojan cientos de migrantes el martes 4 de diciembre de 2018. (Foto de Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register / SCNG)
A Tijuana church group provides new shoes and clothing to Central American migrants outside the El Barretal shelter on Tuesday, December 4, 2018. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
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More than 100,000 immigrants were caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in October and November. Nearly half of them were traveling in family groups that included children, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
While the number of immigrants caught crossing the border illegally has fallen since the 1990s and early 2000s, U.S. authorities have been grappling in recent years with an increase in children traveling alone or with family.
It is not illegal to cross the border without a visa to apply for asylum. Immigrant advocates say violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is driving people north, and many are coming to seek asylum. Nearly 100,000 immigrants requested initial asylum screenings during the fiscal year ending in September, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Most of the cases were filed in Texas.
Trump administration officials say one of the major pull factors for migrants coming across the border is the idea that they can wait in the United States for months or even years as their asylum cases progress. They argue many disappear into the U.S. Forcing them to wait in Mexico will cut down on false asylum claims. The policy change applies only to migrants coming from countries other than Mexico, officials said.
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Thousands of migrants have come up from Central America in recent weeks as part of caravans. President Donald Trump used his national security powers to put in place regulations that denied asylum to anyone caught crossing illegally, but a judge has halted that change as a lawsuit progresses.
Nielsen said in a statement the policy would be done legally.
“This will also allow us to focus more attention on those who are actually fleeing persecution,” she said in a statement.