Asylum seekers gathered at the Chaparral border bridge in Tijuana, on the U.S.-Mexico border, on Friday (February 19) after Joe Biden’s administration allowed 25 migrants to enter the country.
The migrants have been waiting in Mexico for months while they seek asylum in the U.S. and are being allowed to enter the country, as part of the Biden administration efforts to roll back the Trump-era policy known as “Remain in Mexico.”
“We have hope to enter the United States with God’s favor. We have been waiting here illegally for a long time,” said Pedro Tamayo, a Cuban migrant currently staying in the Mexican city Ciudad Juarez.
President Joe Biden pledged during his campaign that he would immediately rescind the Trump policy, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), under which more than 65,000 mostly Central American asylum seekers were denied entry and sent back across the border pending court hearings. Most returned home but some stayed in Mexico in sometimes squalid or dangerous conditions, vulnerable to kidnapping and other violence.
Now they will be allowed into the United States to wait for their cases to be heard in immigration courts.
The effort started slowly on Friday at a port of entry in San Ysidro, California, where the 25 MPP asylum seekers were allowed to cross the border and will now quarantine in a local hotel, according to the non-profit organization Jewish Family Service of San Diego.
Hundreds of migrants signed up within hours of the launch of a U.N. website that allows migrants with active cases to register remotely to be processed at the U.S.-Mexico border, said Mark Manly, a representative in Mexico for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
On the Tijuana side of the border crossing, about 300 migrants gathered on Friday morning, despite Mexican officials stressing that they would not be able to cross without registering ahead of time.
In the coming week, two additional ports of entry in Texas will be rolled out, including one near a migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokeswoman.
The Biden administration is treading carefully in its efforts to process asylum seekers, wary that the policy shift could encourage more migrants to trek to the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. officials say anyone who seeks to enter and does not have an active
MPP case will be immediately expelled.
The administration estimates that only 25,000 people out of the more than 65,000 enrolled in MPP still have active immigration court cases and is set to begin dealing with that group on Friday. But it has cautioned that the efforts will take time.
Biden officials say they expect eventually to process 300 people per day at two of the ports.
(Production: Jorge Nieto, Jose Luis Gonzalez, Daniel Becerril, Manuel Carrillo, Liamar Ramos)