The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced migrants who seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border must return and wait in Mexico while their claims are processed.
In what might be one of the Trump administration’s most aggressive reforms of the U.S. immigration system to date, Secretary of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen revealed Thursday her department will no longer allow migrants to enter the U.S. after claiming asylum. Instead, asylum seekers who tried getting into the country through the U.S. southern border will have to wait in Mexico while their cases move through the immigration courts.
It won’t apply to “children traveling alone or to Mexican asylum seekers,” according to The Associated Press.
The change in policy comes after immigration officials have had to deal with an influx of Central American migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border with Mexico. Applications for asylum reached all-time highs.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recorded 78,564 requests for asylum in 2017, a dramatic increase from the 13,880 requests made in 2012. The numbers have only gotten higher, with the USCIS recording a record-setting 99,035 asylum requests — 62,609 of which included Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Hondurans — during the 2018 fiscal year.
“They will not be able to disappear into the United States,” Nielsen said Thursday while testifying before a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “They will have to wait for approval. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America. If they are not, they will be removed to their home countries.”
The name of the policy is known as the “Remain in Mexico” plan.
“‘Catch and release’ will be replaced with ‘catch and return.’ In doing so, we will reduce illegal migration by removing one of the key incentives that encourages people from taking the dangerous journey to the United States in the first place,” Nielsen said in a press statement following the hearing. “This will also allow us to focus more attention on those who are actually fleeing persecution.”
The policy was made in conjunction with the Mexican government, which agreed to give foreigners temporary permission to stay in Mexico and seek work authorization after receiving a notice to appear in U.S. immigration court.
The “Remain in Mexico” plan comes just days after the American government pledged to give southern Mexico and Central America $10.6 billion in aid.