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  • Central American Exodus members trying to reach the United States, hitchhike on a truck in Tapachula, Mexico, Oct. 22, 201

    Central American Exodus members trying to reach the United States, hitchhike on a truck in Tapachula, Mexico, Oct. 22, 201 | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 December 2018

After the Trump administration announced they were kicking-out asylum seekers, and returning them to Mexico, the AMLO government said they would struggle to take the migrants in.

The Mexican government - under newly-inaugurated President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), said Thursday it won't take in foreigners while they're applying for asylum in the U.S. because it doesn't have the capacity or the legal framework to do so, contradicting immigration plans by the U.S. 

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Fence

"I can only say that the Institute can't deal with this in the short term," said Tonatiuh Guillen, commissioner of Mexico's National Institute for Migration (INM). "We will have to do some revisions. Also, the migration law also doesn't favor us in these kind of initiatives, so we will have to implement a different procedure in the migration law."

Guillen's declaration seems to contradict comments made by the Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard earlier on Thursday, who said that "for humanitarian reasons and temporarily," the country will allow United States asylum seekers into Mexico while their applications are processed.

"The Government of Mexico has decided to take the (...) actions for the benefit of migrants, in particular minors (...) as well as to protect the right of those who wish to initiate and follow a procedure of asylum in United States territory," said Ebrard in a communique. "Mexico reaffirms its sovereign right to admit or reject the entry of foreigners into its territory, in the exercise of its migration policy," added the statement.

Such comments were interpreted as a green light to the U.S.-backed policy to send asylum-seekers to Mexico while their applications are being processed. But Guillen said that precisely because of those "humanitarian reasons" Mexico received the Central American Exodus on October 19, but the government can't take them back in once they cross the northern border. 

Guillen explained that there's an agreement and an established practice regarding deported Mexicans, but that's not the case with people of other nationalities, and highlighted the institute can't operate in such manner at the moment.

"I don't know if I'm clear. We can't receive them. I mean, we don't have the conditions to receive them," said Guillen.

The announcements were made just after the director of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told the House Judiciary committee Thursday: “Once implemented, individuals arriving in or entering the United States from Mexico — illegally or without proper documentation—may be returned to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings.”

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, get on the back of a truck while making their way to Tijuana from Mexicali, in Mexicali, Mexico, November 20, 2018. Photo | Reuters

The secretary added, “They will not be able to disappear into the United States. They will have to wait for approval to come into the United States. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America. If they are not, they will be sent back to their home countries,” according to the Washington Post.

Since taking office almost two years ago the Donald Trump administration has both legally and de facto been trying to squeeze out nearly all foreign-born from the U.S.

“Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates,” Nielsen said in a statement. “Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico.”

Justice Department data shows that between 2012 and 2016 around 70 percent of immigrants in the U.S. do show up for their immigration court hearings. Over the past several years many court notices failed to contain information including court dates or locations.

Mexican officials say they're not planning to implement a “safe third country” scheme where refugees would have to request U.S. asylum while still in Mexico, something that Trump said was a sure thing just prior to AMLO’s swearing-in on Dec. 1.  

By international law, it is legal to cross a border without a visa to apply for asylum in any country.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Lee Gelernt said the suddenly-announced plan was illegal. “This plan cannot be done lawfully.” The ACLU and the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) have collectively brought dozens of lawsuits against the administration’s immigration ‘policies,’ most notably Trump ordering refugee families to be separated at the U.S. southern border, the elimination of DACA, and the so-called asylum ban.

Gelernt says the new U.S. move will put “countless (number of) people in life-threatening situations.”

Around 10,000 Central American asylum seekers and refugees arrived at the Mexico border with the U.S. in mid-November in the Central American Exodus.

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The so-called migrant caravan, largely mothers and children, arrived at the Mexican border, mainly in Tijuana, Mexico after trekking for over a month from their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as a last resort to escape overwhelming poverty, violence, government impunity and the negative effects of climate change.

Thousands are still living in shelters and temporary encampments in Tijuana that borders San Diego, California, waiting for U.S. border authorities to allow them to apply for asylum, a process that is painfully, and illegally slow, due to the Trump ‘metering’ policy that allows only a trickle of asylum applicants per month.

Ebrard said that the government will guarantee that foreigners who have received a summons to process their entry into the United States "fully enjoy" the rights and freedoms established in Mexico’s constitution, according to Reuters.

AMLO has already promised more humanitarian visas to Exodus members and says he wants to eliminate the “root causes” of migration by creating more jobs and improving living conditions in southern Mexico and Central America.

The U.S. and Mexico announced Tuesday they will collectively allocate US$35.6 billion for development projects in the Northern Triangle and southern Mexico.

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