US to start returning asylum seekers to Mexico on Friday: report

Some asylum seekers will be returned to Mexico to wait while their asylum requests are decided on, says spokesman.

    Central Americans and Mexicans queue to cross into the US to apply for asylum at the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico [File: Jorge Duenes/Reuters]
    Central Americans and Mexicans queue to cross into the US to apply for asylum at the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico [File: Jorge Duenes/Reuters]

    The United States will return the first group of migrants seeking asylum in the US to the Mexican border city of Tijuana on Friday, a spokesman for Mexico's president said on Thursday.

    In a major policy change, US President Donald Trump's administration said on December 20 it would send non-Mexican migrants who cross the US southern border back to wait in Mexico while their US asylum requests are processed.

    The spokesman for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s office did not specify the nationalities of those to be returned to Mexico, although the policy was aimed at helping cope with rising numbers of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States.

    The two countries have held two meetings to work out details of the plan to return migrants seeking US asylum across the shared border. Mexico has said it will not accept anybody facing a credible threat in Mexican territory.

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    Serious doubts exist over whether Mexico can keep Central American asylum seekers who are fleeing poverty and crime safe, especially in border towns that are often more violent than the cities they left.

    It is unclear how Mexico plans to house what could be thousands of asylum seekers for the months - or years - it takes US immigration cases to be heard. A backlog of more than 800,000 cases is pending in immigration courts.

    Trump's escalation

    The move comes as Trump escalates his efforts to severely limit the number of migrants and refugees entering and living in the US. 

    On Thursday, the US government entered its 34th day of a partial shutdown, the longest of its type in history, which started over Trump's demand for more than $5bn in funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border. 

    Earlier this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights organisation and other groups filed a class- action lawsuit accusing the Trump administration of using detained migrant children as "bait" to arrest undocumented people. 

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    Last week, the Office of Inspector General at the US Department of Health and Human Services said the US government may have separated "thousands more" migrant children from their families than previously known.

    The administration of President Donald Trump implemented a "zero tolerance" policy to criminally prosecute and jail all undocumented border crossers, even those travelling with their children, leading to a wave of separations last year.

    But the auditor said in a report that prior to the officially announced policy, the government had ramped up separations for other reasons related to a child's safety and well-being, including separating parents with criminal records or lack of proper documents.

    SOURCE: News agencies