DHS plans to expand 'Remain in Mexico' policy

Asylum-seekers have to wait for court hearings

Copyright 2019 CNN

(CNN) - In the coming weeks, the Trump administration plans to expand a policy that requires some asylum seekers to await their immigration court hearings in Mexico to other locations along the US-Mexico border, said Department of Homeland Security officials Friday.

Officials wouldn't specify where exactly they plan to implement the program, though they didn't rule out El Paso, Texas.

"Everything is on the table," said a DHS official. "We want to make sure we do this right. We want a location that works for both sides of the border."

The so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, informally known as "Remain in Mexico," applies to migrants primarily from Central America. The US has begun to implement the new asylum policy in San Ysidro, and has planned to expand to other areas of the border.

As of February 14, 93 individuals have been returned to Mexico to wait for their immigration court hearing, according to DHS. Of those, 13 were families. Officials said the program will not apply to unaccompanied children.

Over time, DHS intends to apply the program to migrants who appear at and between ports of entry. Those who try to cross the border illegally will be assigned a port of entry to return to for immigration court proceedings.

An expansion of the program would cast a wider net over how many migrants will be subject to the protocols, which already face legal challenges.

Earlier this month, a coalition of immigrant advocacy groups asked a federal judge for a restraining order that would block the Trump administration from forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases make their way through the immigration courts. The plaintiffs include 11 migrants.

Advocates argued that the administration's new policy causes irreparable harm and places vulnerable asylum seekers' lives at risk.

The administration, for its part, has said the policy will stem the flow of migrants and "reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need."

Lawyers had also expressed concern about how migrants would be represented in court and whether their cases would be caught up in the immigration court's massive backlog.

DHS officials said they're working with the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review regarding the immigration court hearings. Those conversations are expected to move forward once the hearings get underway, but officials are looking to expedite them.

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