Immigration advocates voice concerns for asylum-seekers after they enter the U.S.

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — As local immigration advocates prepare to receive the first group of asylum-seekers on Friday, they said there can be room for error as the Migrant Protection Protocols program begins to be turned back.

Ruben Garcia, the executive director of El Paso’s largest migrant shelter, Annunciation House, said 25 asylum-seekers are expected to be released per weekday beginning February 26 and it could slowly make its way to 50, then 75 a day.

Melissa Lopez, the executive director of the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, said about 26,000 migrants are currently eligible to enter.

“When we’re talking about 25 people per day, this is going to take some time for this process to roll itself out so it’s going to be really important for people to follow the process and wait to enter,” Lopez said.

Lopez also said the rollback of MPP, or the “Remain in Mexico” policy, only applies to those who came to a port of entry at the beginning of January 2019 seeking asylum and currently enrolled in the program. Those who recently sought asylum or already have a deportation order do not qualify.

However, Lopez said she has several concerns for those entering the United States once they reach their final destination.

“There will be a single document that every single person will file, it’s a change-of-address form,” Lopez said. “That document will be given to U.S. officials when they get to the port of entry, that document will then be used to transfer their court hearing from El Paso to, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, wherever they may be going.”

Lopez said there is room for error based on that single document which can include illegible handwriting, or migrants may not know which address to put on their form, which Lopez said can muddle further notification for court hearings and if that form is not processed correctly, people can be deported.

“So the whole point of this program is to give people the opportunity to apply for asylum and if this process in terms of that one piece of paper is not processed correctly, we could see thousands of people with deportation orders,” Lopez said.

Lopez said asylum-seekers will also be given the authorization to work while in the United States. As for those who are not included in this program, Lopez said it’s unclear what will happen to them.

“They, unfortunately, need to wait until we get more information,” Lopez said. “We’re trying to get this program launched with as few kinks as possible so we can welcome larger numbers on a daily basis.”

Garcia said he was concerned about Title 42 and how it will affect numbers coming in. Title 42 permits Border Patrol to expel individuals in an unauthorized or undocumented status as they are encountered. They can be returned to Mexico or their home country.

“Title 42, because of the pandemic, has been what controlled the border, you could say, to a great extent,” Garcia said. “There’s great discussion as to whether or not Title 42 might be affected, changed, modified, or ended at some future date, in which case there’s going to be great, great concern,” Garcia said.

He said in that event, his Casa de Refugiado facility would not be able to handle those numbers and they would need to look at ways to handle them with hotels, etc. Garcia said, for now, the shelter could house 300 individuals while following COVID-19 precautions.

Garcia added most asylum-seekers remain in El Paso for 24-96 hours before leaving to their final destination.

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