EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Migrant advocates are pondering a public information campaign to reach asylum-seekers with active cases who haven’t petitioned to be taken out of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program.

“One thing that is concerning is we believe there is still a number of individuals who eligible to enter the United States who for one reason or another have not yet been identified,” said Melissa Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services. “Maybe they’re back in their home countries because they just thought they weren’t going to have a chance. Maybe they’re in the interior of Mexico and aren’t aware that this is happening.”

The Biden administration on Feb. 19 began rolling back MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” allowing asylum-seekers to continue their claims from inside the United States. As many as 65,000 were sent back to Mexico in 2019 and 2020. Advocates in the U.S. and Mexico said an unknown number of them were victimized by criminals while many others returned to their countries.

As of last week, the U.S. had allowed some 10,700 to re-enter the country. A May 11 report by the TRAC system at Syracuse University estimated more than 18,000 eligible to come out of MPP might still be in Mexico. Those wishing to be taken out “Remain in Mexico” must register at a webpage run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in coordination with the U.S. government.

“It’s going to be important this next phase to try to identify those who have not yet come forward […] We want to make sure as many people enter the United States and apply for asylum,” Lopez said, explaining that having shown up at the border to solicit asylum was but the beginning of a complicated, multi-step legal process.

She urged asylum-seekers to get a lawyer or consult with accredited immigration assistance nonprofits, as claimants who have legal assistance are five times more likely to win a case than those who go at it alone.

“Depending on their circumstances, they may be eligible for benefits such as work authorization. For those that are Cuban, they may be eligible for legal residence depending on how long they’ve been in the country,” Lopez said.

DMRS has been assisting asylum-seekers and refugees for decades but has ramped-up its involvement since December. That’s when president-elect Joe Biden signaled he would be making good on a campaign promise to roll back MPP.

Since then the legal immigration assistance agency and others in El Paso such as Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Hope Border Institute have been tracking and assisting migrants stuck in Mexico for up to two years.

“More (asylum-seekers) have come through El Paso than any other city on the border. It’s been a huge collaborative effort. Hope and Las Americas were giving information to people who would be crossing over so when they arrived on U.S. soil they wouldn’t be completely lost,” Lopez said.

El Paso immigration courts at one point had 17,000 pending asylum cases, with 4,000 individuals processes so far. “That’s a big gap in the number of cases pending and those that have come in,” Lopez said.

Now the goal is to get the word out to those that came to the border and left.

“It’s going to take a lot of work, probably on social media. Also, there are international groups that have ties in other parts of Mexico and Central America. It’s going to be important for those partners to be involved in the process to make sure anyone who is eligible to enter the United States under MPP is able to enter,” she said.

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