On December 20, 2018 Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced historic action to confront the illegal immigration crisis facing the United States. Nielsen sta
ted that effective immediately, the United States will begin the process of invoking Section 235(b)(2)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), certain asylum-seekers who arrive in the U.S. illegally from Mexico will have to wait in Mexico during the course of their asylum hearings.
In response, Mexico has made an independent determination that they will commit to implement essential measures on their side of the border. While U.S. asylum seekers wait in Mexico, the Mexican government has made its own decision to provide these individuals humanitarian visas, work authorization, and other protections. Aliens will have access to immigration attorneys as well as entry into the U.S. for their court hearings. Aliens whose claims are upheld by U.S. judges will be allowed in, those without valid claims will be deported back to their home countries.
A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official states that this action does not apply to asylum seekers for whom Mexico is their home country. But asylum seekers fleeing violence or persecution in Central America traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States. These people are particularly vulnerable, and Mexico can be a dangerous place to wait. Civil rights organizations and immigrant advocates have continuously argued that Mexico is not safe for refugees and asylum seekers, highlighting high murder rates and an increasing risk of kidnapping, trafficking, and extortion, mainly along the border. A few days ago, Mexican officials announced that two Honduran teens who had traveled with a migrant caravan were found killed in Tijuana, raising further questions about Mexico’s ability to keep migrants safe. The two boys had left a shelter for migrant youths and were killed in an apparent robbery attempt.
DHS states that it has seen a 2,000 percent increase in migrants claiming “credible fear”—the first step to asylum—and that asylum claims last year rose by 67 percent compared to the previous year. As a result, the Unites States has an overwhelming asylum backlog of more than 786,000 pending cases. Most of these claims are not likely to succeed—in fact nine out of ten asylum claims are not granted by a federal immigration judge.
The administration has said that the changes are meant to weed out people who do not qualify for asylum, but migrant rights groups argue that they would also affect those legitimately fleeing for their lives. Shelters for asylum seekers in Mexico have been overwhelmed recently by people who would previously have been allowed into the United States on the day they presented themselves at the border, but now have to wait weeks or months. This new policy will most likely alleviate pressure on American border agents who for months have argues that they are overwhelmed by the record number of migrant families seeking asylum.