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  • A United States border patrol agent pats down a man caught crossing from Mexico to the US .

    A United States border patrol agent pats down a man caught crossing from Mexico to the US . | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 March 2019

The program marks a shift in the U.S.’s policy for handling cases of migrants seeking asylum and fleeing persecution in their countries of origin, especially as it targets Central American Asylum Seekers. 

New Border Patrol’s guidelines in the United States explicitly ask its agents to target Spanish speakers and migrants from Latin America in carrying out a Trump administration program requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico and not enter the U.S., according to memos obtained by The Associated Press Thursday.

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An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Judy Rabinovitz said that even though they knew the current administration is “trying to get at Central American asylum seekers to see it written there, so blatantly, is so disturbing”. Her organization was among those that sued the U.S. government in February to block the policy, which was launched in late January.

The program marks a shift in the U.S.’s policy for handling cases of migrants seeking asylum and fleeing persecution in their countries of origin. It initially applied only to those who turned themselves in at official border crossings, but a memo from a division chief of the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector says it expanded Friday to include people who cross the border illegally.

 

These new instructions exclude Mexican asylum seekers, children traveling alone, pregnant women, LGBT migrants and people suffering medical issues; who are not to be sent back to Mexico and instead go through the traditional asylum process in the U.S. immigration court system. Thus targeting Central American asylum seekers.

The timing of this program corresponds to 12-year-high on border arrests in February, many of who turn themselves and their families in as asylum seekers trying to elude capture. Guatemala and Honduras have replaced Mexico as the top countries, a remarkable shift from only a few years ago.

And while Mexican officials insist that no more than 20 asylum seekers are to be returned each day from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico a memo on March 5 to top Border Patrol officials in San Diego said the agency is under “pressures to utilize this program as much as we can.”

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security described the program as “another tool available in the law” to respond to the record numbers of Central American migrants arriving at the border in recent months. However, for some critics, this just amounts to the practice of ‘catch and release’.

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