The Biden administration moved to restore the asylum system to how it worked for decades Friday by releasing a group of asylum-seekers into the United States, ending their long wait in Mexico and unraveling one of former President Donald Trump’s signature immigration policies.
About 100 people gathered Friday at the crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, sharing rumors and hoping to glean information about when they would be allowed into the United States while their cases are decided by the courts.
The U.S. is expected to release 25 people a day in San Diego.
Authorities can process up to 300 a day at the San Diego border crossing, but it is not known when they will change the target of 25 a day.
Those who arrived are the first of an estimated 25,000 asylum-seekers with active cases in the “Remain in Mexico” program who will now wait in the U.S. for their court hearings instead of south of the border.
Wary of a surge of migrants, American officials are warning people not to come to the border and to register on a website that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is launching early next week.
The new arrivals were taken to San Diego hotels to quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic before they travel to their final destinations in the U.S. to stay with relatives, friends or sponsors.
President Joe Biden is making good on his promise to end a policy that Trump said was critical to reversing a surge of asylum-seekers, which peaked in 2019.
The program, known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” changed the way people had been treated by the U.S. government for decades as they sought protection from violence and persecution.
It exposed them to violence in Mexican border cities and made it difficult to find lawyers and communicate with courts about their cases.
There are unanswered questions about Biden’s changes, including how Central Americans who returned home will get back to the U.S.-Mexico border.
It’s also unclear how long it will take to work through all the cases, with the oldest going first.
People also were expected to be let into the country starting Monday in Brownsville, Texas, and next Friday in El Paso, Texas.
About 70,000 asylum-seekers have been part of the Remain in Mexico program since it started in January 2019.
Those whose cases were dismissed or denied are not eligible to return to the country, but U.S. officials have not ruled out some form of relief later.
The Biden administration, which stopped enrolling new arrivals on its first day, said last week that asylum-seekers with active cases would be released in the United States with notices to appear in immigration courts closest to their final destinations.
It brought huge relief to those who are eligible, while U.S. and U.N. officials urged against a rush to the border.