The numbers and names of migrants who are able to request asylum are read from an unofficial list in May 2019. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

One of the key policy initiatives of former President Donald Trump was to make it more difficult to seek asylum in the United States, particularly for those coming from Central American countries. And one of the most significant ways he did this was through the Migrant Protection Protocols — or the MPP — which required asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while they awaited their U.S. proceedings.

There have been more than 1,500 reports of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and assault against people who were returned to Mexico under the program, according to Human Rights First.

Last week, President Joe Biden’s administration began to process some of those people who have been waiting in Mexico with active asylum cases. There are an estimated 25,000 such cases, the AP reports.

On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security began to process a group of 25 asylum seekers who were waiting in Tijuana at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the Union-Tribune reports. Hundreds of asylum-seekers came to the port of entry Friday in hopes they would be processed.

The initial 25 people were placed in hotel rooms in San Diego and had been tested for COVID beforehand, KPBS reports.

The first asylum-seekers to enter the United States Friday were selected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in coordination with local groups that work with migrants in Tijuana, the U-T reports.

But many asylum-seekers are not going to be included in the undoing of MPP.

U-T reporter Kate Morrissey noted on Twitter that many Haitian asylum-seekers waiting at the port of entry felt left out of the process since they were not enrolled in MPP. They said they too had been waiting for months or years in Tijuana for their chance to request asylum.

The first phase of the end of MPP applies only to those who have active cases. Some lawyers told the New Republic that people who had their cases dismissed or denied should still be included.

  • An immigration reform bill was introduced in Congress Thursday that includes an eight-year path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, permanent legal status for DACA recipients and increases on legal immigration numbers per country. (Reuters)

Keeping an Eye on Border Surveillance

Ports of entry are among the most heavily surveilled places in the United States, and the data-collection effort is about to intensify. Thanks to a new law approved by Congress and signed by Trump, DHS is developing a plan to scan every commercial and passenger vehicle and freight rail entering the United States with X-ray or a similar imaging system.

If the law is enforced, the new requirements could cause massive traffic delays at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and cost cargo importers who use the Otay Mesa Port of Entry major revenue losses, the Union-Tribune reports.

A lot of new technology has been introduced at the ports of entry recently. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also rolled out biometric facial comparison technology at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa pedestrian crossings last month.

No doubt much of this technology will be useful to border agents — for, say, preventing illicit drugs from crossing over — but there are also concerns that arise from these technologies, especially at a place like a port of entry, where people’s rights are murkier than they are once you’re actually in the United States. You may remember, for example, that time when DHS was caught tracking journalists and immigration advocates through a secret database.

Back in 2018, I spoke with Josiah Heyman, the director of the Center for Interamerican and Border Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, who had been writing about ports of entry for more than a decade.

“There is nowhere you are more subject to Big Brother’s eye than at a port of entry, land or air,” Heyman told me. “I don’t think people understand how vulnerable their civil liberties are at ports of entry.”

Here’s a guide to your rights when you’re crossing the border.

Coronavirus Updates

More Border News

Maya Srikrishnan

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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