Under a new policy which was announced by the Trump Administration the previous week, a Honduran man named Carlos Catarlo Gomez became the first asylum seeker to be sent back to Tijuana through the San Ysidro Port of Entry at the end of January to await their pending immigration court proceedings in the United States.
Until now, immigrants seeking asylum were allowed to stay in the U.S.—either released or detained—until they must appear in immigration court. However, there is a massive backlog of 800,000 cases awaiting decisions by immigration judges.
Officially called the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson announced the policy last December. The new plan includes having migrants be interviewed by asylum officers at the Southern U.S. border to determine if the asylum seeker would be most likely subject to persecution or torture in Mexico based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or being part of a specific social group.
Mexican officials said they would only accept individuals between 18 and 60 years of age, which means no families with young children can be part of the new program. According to federal court rulings, migrant families with children should not be detained for more than 20 days.
Customs and Border Protection said migrants would be provided a Mexico temporary visa which lasts for up to 120 days, a sheet which details the legal process, and a list of free or affordable legal service providers. U.S. asylum judges are given up to 90 days to make a final decision on these cases.
However, thousands of Central American migrants were already waiting in Tijuana—with many already occupying shelters in poor conditions. Although U.S. and Mexican authorities are asking San Diego-based nonprofits to provide legal assistance to migrants, many migrant advocacy groups are not capable of dealing with the issue since migrants don’t have access to international phone calls and legal groups aren’t able to constantly cross the border to meet with clients.
The Department of Homeland Security plans to include families in the policy in the future and expand it throughout the entire U.S.-Mexico border. The United States and Mexican officials claim the U.S. would start sending between 20 migrants per day or 100 per week in a 90-day trial period in San Diego.