HARLINGEN, TEXAS (Border Report) — Thousands of asylum-seekers who are forced to wait in Mexico during their U.S. immigration court proceedings, will have to wait even longer.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it will not resume immigration court hearings for migrants in the program until mid-July, at the earliest, due to the coronavirus pandemic and escalating cases in Mexico.
The asylum seekers are part of the Migrant Protection Protocols program, called MPP, a policy started by the Trump Administration in 2019 that has been heavily criticized by migrant advocates for requiring asylum-seekers to live in Mexico while their cases play out in federal immigration courts. The whole process can take nine months to a year.
The pandemic has now substantially added to that timeline.
Court proceedings were halted when the United States and Mexico implemented travel restrictions on March 20 on the Southwest border in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“As a result of this ongoing review of conditions, and in conjunction with continued implementation of health officials’ COVID-19 guidance, DHS and DOJ are postponing both MPP hearings and in-person document service through, and including, July 17, 2020,” a joint statement with the Justice Department and DHS, officials said. “This will alleviate the need for travel within Mexico to a U.S. port of entry while pandemic conditions in Mexico remain severe.”
Coronavirus cases in Mexico, have skyrocketed in the past two weeks. Tamaulipas, which shares 200 miles of border with South Texas, reported 113 new cases and 12 deaths on Tuesday.
South Texas officials have been critical of Mexico, saying it is vastly under-reporting the severity of COVID-19.
In a statement on Tuesday, Tamaulipas Secretary of Health, Gloria Molina Gamboa did warn this “is in the most critical period since the start of the pandemic.”
Some migrants have waited almost a year
The additional delay will add at least another month to the three months that asylum-seekers have already waited with no face-time in front of U.S. immigration judges.
South Texas immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin said the delay has caused her clients much frustration and angst.
“My clients are desperate, they’re anxious to have some closure especially all those cases that were already scheduled for final hearings,” Goodwin said. “A lot of them can understand the level of danger with COVID, but at the same time they desperately want closure and to get their hearings heard.”
Goodwin says she has clients who were scheduled for their final court hearings next week. They had been waiting since late July in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas. Her clients were among some of the first placed into the MPP program, which was first implemented in South Texas on July 17, 2019.
My clients are desperate, they’re anxious to have some closure.”Jodi Goodwin, South Texas immigration lawyer
Homeland Security officials have targeted July 20 as the date hearings will resume, but that will depend upon COVID-19 numbers in Mexico and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as State Department travel advisories/recommendations.
Meanwhile, migrants must call a 1-800 hotline or check the federal agency’s website to find their new court date, Goodwin said. DHS and Justice Department officials said migrants will be given a 15-day notice before resuming court hearings.
Another disappointment for tent encampment
Meanwhile, the number of migrants living at the tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, is now at about 1,500, which is half of what the attendance was before the pandemic began.
Andrea Rudnik is a volunteer with Team Brownsville, which provides daily meals, tents and other hygienic supplies to the migrants. She says their morale might wane with news like this, but their resolve to claim asylum in the United States does not.
“They’ve seen so many disappointments that this is just another setback,” Rudnik said. “It’s kind of more of the same.”