The Trump administration is intensifying measures to curb the flow of Central American asylum seekers crossing into the United States from Mexico, officials said on Monday, including sending more people back to Mexico to wait for their asylum claims to be heard by U.S. courts.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency will speed up the reassignment of 750 officers to parts of the border dealing with the largest numbers of immigrants, a shift the administration first announced last week.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to close the border if Mexico does not stop a surge of people, often travelling as families from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Closing the border would potentially disrupt millions of legal border crossings and billions of dollars in trade.
One policy put in place earlier this year to return asylum seekers to Mexico, dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), will be “immediately” expanded by “hundreds of additional migrants per day above current rates,” Nielsen said in a statement on Monday.
The policy is already being challenged in court by civil rights groups. As of March 26, approximately 370 migrants had been returned to Mexico since the program began in late January, a Mexican official said last week.
Asked about the numbers, a DHS spokeswoman declined to confirm them and said the policy “is still in the early stages of implementation.”
Critics of the administration say the policy hampers asylum cases, by making it far more difficult for those immigrants to obtain legal assistance. People who have been returned to Mexico to wait are struggling to find attorneys and receive notice of their proceedings in U.S. courts, rights advocates said. Trump administration officials say the MPP is a way to address the failings of the current system, which they claim encourages illegal immigration. Families that claim asylum are often released into the United States because of limits on how long children can be held in detention, allowing them to stay for years while their cases move through a backlogged immigration court system even though many claims are ultimately denied.