The Biden administration has started allowing some migrant families seeking asylum to enter the U.S. at legal border crossings for the first time since the pandemic began more than a year ago, according to people familiar with the process and government data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
In the first three weeks of April, about 880 people traveling as families have been processed at border crossings and allowed to enter the U.S., according to internal Customs and Border Protection data reviewed by the Journal.
Though the Biden administration has said the border remains closed to nonessential travel and asylum seekers, it has been making exceptions for some families and unaccompanied children, government officials confirmed Friday.
The Trump administration closed legal border crossings to most traffic, including migrant families, last March under a public-health emergency order. Since then, just over 100,000 people traveling as families have been caught crossing the border illegally, a trend that has accelerated significantly in recent months.
The Biden administration has said it has no immediate plans to repeal the health order, known as Title 42, despite continuing litigation challenging its legality and claims by immigration and human-rights advocates that the policy endangers migrants. However, the administration is planning to revise the public-health order to clarify that it shouldn’t apply to minors, since children pose less of a risk of spreading Covid-19 or becoming severely ill from it, according to the government officials.
“The border is not open, and we continue to expel individuals and families,” a Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman said. “DHS is continually working, in consultation with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], to improve the process for humanitarian exception requests under Title 42 as part of our efforts to restore safe, humane and orderly processing at our borders.”
For nearly a year before the pandemic, most families seeking asylum were turned back to Mexico to wait for U.S. courts to decide if they would be allowed into the U.S. Before that, families were generally allowed to wait in the U.S. for decisions on their cases.
Families allowed in now can also wait in the U.S. for their cases to be resolved as well, a process that often takes several years due to court backlogs.
Mexican nonprofit organizations have started referring about 35 migrant families a day to U.S. authorities to be allowed to cross the border and ask for asylum, said
a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. The families are tested for Covid-19 in Mexico and then driven to legal crossings all along the border, according to the people familiar with the process.
The families being selected to cross the border are considered to be among the most vulnerable migrants waiting in Mexico, including pregnant women, members of the LGBT community and those with medical emergencies. Many traveled from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, where high crime and poverty compounded by two hurricanes last year have driven many to flee.
To date, there have been no formal procedures for selecting families, the people with knowledge of the process said. But in the coming weeks, a group of aid agencies working at the border is expected to create a more formalized process that is likely to involve coordination with the United Nations refugee agency and the U.S. government, those people said. That more-formal process is expected to expand to include larger numbers of families.
The Biden administration has been criticized by people who want tougher border enforcement for loosening restrictions while the number of people crossing illegally has been rising, and by migrant advocates for not moving more quickly to end Trump-era policies.
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Source: WSJ – US News