Migrants in Mexican camp brave icy nights, chance to enter U.S. nears

By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Roberto Manuel wore two shirts, three jackets and four pairs of pants to brace himself for subzero temperatures in Matamoros, the Mexican city opposite Texas, where he lives in a flimsy tent while waiting to resolve an asylum claim in the United States.

“It was cold last year, but not like this with ice,” the 43-year-old said on Tuesday evening by phone from the encampment, where he is among about 1,000 migrants, most from Central America, hoping to be granted refuge across the border.

Manuel, from Nicaragua, has lived there a year and a half under former President Donald Trump’s controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program that makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings.

He is hopeful that President Joe Biden will make migration policies more humane, ending the uncertainty of his life in limbo on the border so he can make plans to work with a friend in Miami.

In fact, Biden’s administration has said a new process will gradually begin in coming days to allow thousands of MPP asylum seekers to await courts’ decisions within the United States, a policy change that should eventually empty the camp. But Manuel said he is fuzzy on the details.

For now, there is just the stinging cold, even in his layers, which has plunged swathes of northern Mexico and the southern United States into chilling temperatures and left millions of people without power.

“Everything froze – the water we cook with, even clothes became stiff with ice,” Manuel recalled from the previous night, when sleet pummeled the plastic tarps slung over camping tents as extra protection from the elements.

Even in the daytime, icicles clung to tent roofs and shards of ice glittered on the ground, a video filmed by another camp resident showed.

“How are we surviving the cold? With the embrace of God, nothing else,” said Sandra Andrade, 44, of El Salvador, narrating the video.

Her daughters, ages 8 and 11, left the camp a few months ago to join their uncle in Boston, and Andrade said she was relieved they were spared the deep freeze.

“If they had been here in this icebox, they would be crying from cold every night,” she said in an interview. Even she has had trouble sleeping, kept awake by the noisy wind stirring up the flaps of tents and tarps.

Now with Biden in office, Andrade said she hopes to be able to soon reunite with her daughters, although she worries the brutal cold snap could put a dent in the new plan.

“If it’s causing a slowdown in sending the vaccine, imagine a process like this,” she said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Marguerita Choy)

Biden orders review of Trump immigration rules as officials say time needed to unravel them

By Ted Hesson and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday will order a review of asylum processing at the U.S.-Mexico border and the immigration system as he seeks to undo some of former President Donald Trump’s hardline policies, two senior administration officials said.

Biden will also create a task force to reunite migrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border by Trump’s 2018 “zero tolerance” border strategy, the officials said on a call with reporters on Monday.

Immigration advocates have urged the new Democratic administration to move quickly but officials say they need time to unravel the many layers of immigration restrictions introduced during the Trump era and to put in place new, more migrant-friendly systems.

“Fully remedying the actions will take time and require a full-governance approach,” one of the officials said.

Biden’s executive orders on Tuesday will not address repealing a coronavirus-era order, known as “Title 42,” that was issued under the Trump administration and allows border officials to expel almost all people caught crossing the border illegally.

He will also mandate a review of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a program that pushed 65,000 asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for U.S. court hearings. Most returned to their home countries but some remained in a makeshift camp near the Mexican border.

The Biden administration has already stopped adding people to the program but crucially it has not yet outlined how it will process the claims of those already enrolled.

“I can’t tell you exactly how long it will take to put in an alternative to that policy,” another official told reporters on Monday in response to a reporter’s question about processing people enrolled in the program.

Chad Wolf, former acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary under Trump, said in an interview that halting the MPP program was a mistake because it had been an effective deterrent to illegal immigration.

“If you do have a surge (of migrants), you’re taking one of your tools off the table,” he said in reference to the program.

Biden advisers have said in recent months they will not immediately roll back Trump’s restrictive border and asylum policies due to concerns about encouraging illegal immigration during the coronavirus pandemic. Biden himself said in December that his administration needed to set up “guardrails” so that the United States does not “end up with two million people on our border.”

Biden’s actions on Tuesday will follow six immigration orders he issued on his first day in office and will further jumpstart his ambitious pro-immigrant agenda that seeks to erase Trump’s restrictive policies on legal and illegal immigration.

HURDLES

But Biden’s efforts face logistical challenges and opposition from Republicans, according to immigration policy experts, former officials and activists on both sides of the issue.

Lawsuits by conservative groups could potentially slow down Biden’s agenda. A federal judge last week temporarily blocked one of his first immigration moves – a 100-day pause on many deportations – after the Republican-led state of Texas sought an injunction.

Trump won the presidency in 2016 while making border security a major theme of his campaign. If Biden fails to prevent surges in illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, he could give ammunition to Republicans in the 2022 congressional elections, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

“This is the thing that rallied Donald Trump supporters,” she said.

Biden’s review of Trump’s so-called “public charge” rule is expected to start the process to rescind it, according to two people familiar with the plan. The rule makes it harder for immigrants who are poor or need government help to secure residency and stay in the country.

Biden’s expected order setting up the task force to reunite parents and children separated at the southern border was a key election promise.

The task force, however, will face a daunting challenge in trying to track down the parents of more than 600 children who remain separated, according to a January court filing in a related case. The children are living with relatives or in foster care, according to an attorney representing plaintiffs in the litigation.

The task force will be led by Alejandro Mayorkas, one of the senior officials said on Monday. Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, is expected to face a Senate confirmation vote on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin, Aurora Ellis and Alistair Bell)

Canadian court rules invalid ‘Safe Third Country’ with the U.S.

By Steve Scherer and Moira Warburton

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – A Canadian court on Wednesday ruled invalid a pact that compels asylum seekers trying to enter Canada via the American border to seek sanctuary first in the United States, saying their detention there violates their human rights.

Under the so-called Safe Third Country Agreement between the two neighbors, asylum seekers at a formal border crossing traveling in either direction are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the country in which they first arrived.

Lawyers for refugees who had been turned away at the Canadian border challenged the agreement, saying the United States does not qualify as a “safe” country under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Nedira Jemal Mustefa, one of the refugees turned back, described her time in solitary confinement in the United States as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” according to the court ruling.

“We’re all too familiar with the treatment that the U.S. metes out to asylum seekers,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers. “This case highlights the conditions that people face when Canadian officials turn them around at the U.S. border.”

More than 50,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims over the past four years, walking over ditches and on empty roads along the world’s longest undefended border.

Canada has sought to stem the human tide of asylum seekers that flowed into the country starting in 2016, after Trump promised to crack down on illegal immigration. Experts have said suspending the agreement would have huge implications for the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Federal court judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the agreement was in violation of a section of Canada’s Charter of Rights that says laws or state actions that interfere with life, liberty and security must conform to the principles of fundamental justice.

She suspended her decision for six months to give Parliament a chance to respond to the ruling, which is not final and can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court if necessary.

Canada’s justice ministry and immigration ministry had no immediate comment, nor did officials in the U.S. embassy in Ottawa.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Die in detention or at home? U.S. pandemic forces cruel choice on asylum seekers

By Laura Gottesdiener

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) – In early June, asylum seeker Jose Munoz decided it was time to flee for his life – by getting deported from a Texas immigration detention center where coronavirus was sweeping through the population and going home to El Salvador.

As the number of COVID-19 cases rose in the Houston Contract Detention Facility – it has had at least 105, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data – Munoz said he had few ways to protect himself from exposure except for a cloth face mask. On June 1, there were 375 detainees housed in the facility, according ICE data.

Although at 19 he would not normally be at risk from complications from the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, Munoz worried his high cholesterol, a comorbidity found in some patients who died, made him vulnerable.

Months earlier, the Salvadoran student had sought asylum in the United States after he says he was attacked for refusing to transport drugs for a gang, which he declined to name, citing concerns for his safety. His lawyer and an affidavit signed by Munoz and reviewed by Reuters were consistent with his account. But by June, he feared his life was hanging in the balance, knowing that the next ruling in his asylum case would be months away if he chose to keep fighting.

“I felt like it was more dangerous than back in my country,” he said in a telephone interview last month from El Salvador.

Reuters spoke to more than 30 lawyers, immigration advocates, detainees and their family members who said the risks of contracting COVID-19 inside detention facilities have driven people to seek deportation.

Fifteen immigration lawyers and advocates, who together say they have received hundreds of requests from detainees seeking to leave facilities in eight U.S. states for health reasons, told Reuters they are seeing increases in the number of people considering abandoning their cases. Reuters found 12 cases of detainees who stopped fighting their cases and instead agreed to deportation or voluntary departure due to the pandemic.

An ICE spokeswoman told Reuters the agency respects migrants’ rights to make decisions regarding whether to pursue or forego their cases.

Reuters couldn’t determine if the total number of people voluntarily seeking deportation is on the rise.

Samuel Cole, a U.S. immigration judge who spoke to Reuters as communications director for the National Association of Immigration Judges, said he saw an increase in migrants seeking to leave detention in the early months of the pandemic – even if it meant abandoning their cases.

“There were definitely respondents who expressed fear of getting sick in detention and wanted to get out as fear of COVID was sweeping the country,” Cole said.

ACCESS TO MASKS, HAND SANITIZER

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has dialed back arrests and released some immigrants on parole, but has come under fire for shifting detainees between facilities during the pandemic, which ICE has said is part of its effort to stem the spread of the virus and to promote social distancing. The agency has also been criticized for deporting more than a hundred infected people to their home countries.

ICE data shows 2,742 people in ICE detention centers, and 45 ICE employees, have tested positive for COVID-19. Two migrants with the disease have died. Thousands of others who could be more vulnerable if they get infected remain in custody, according to ICE data included in a June 24 court filing as part of a class-action lawsuit over medical care in ICE facilities.

The ICE spokeswoman said the agency weighs a person’s criminal record, potential threat to public safety and flight risk, as well as any national security concerns, when evaluating whether to grant discretionary release.

One migrant interviewed for this story tested positive for COVID-19 while in detention at the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, according to ICE. A second migrant tested positive on May 14, according to El Rio Health in Arizona, the same day U.S. documents show he was released from ICE custody.

Many of the 14 current and former detainees interviewed by Reuters said they did not have access to hygiene products such as hand soap and disinfectants. Six detainees said they were exposed to other detainees who had fevers, persistent coughs, or body aches, which can be symptoms of the virus.

One current detainee said those who voiced health concerns were punished with solitary confinement, a claim echoed by lawyers and advocates working in detention centers in four different states.

“ICE fully respects the rights of detainees to voice their concerns without interference and does not retaliate in any way,” the ICE spokeswoman told Reuters.

A second ICE spokeswoman said the agency provided soap in washing areas and sanitizer throughout the centers “whenever possible,” adding that ICE had taken steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and to “safeguard the health and well-being of detainees, staff, and others at our detention facilities.”

Several lawyers told Reuters they see the agency’s handling of the pandemic inside its detention centers as part of the U.S. government’s broader effort to limit immigration.

“I’ve come to think it’s a strategy to get people to say: ‘I’m scared to death, I can’t stand it anymore, just deport me,'” said Margo Cowan, supervisor at the Pima County Public Defender’s Office in Arizona, who has practiced immigration law for more than three decades.

The first ICE spokeswoman told Reuters the agency fully respects immigrants’ rights to due process.

“Any alien who has a claim to relief, protection under the law, or basis to remain in the United States is allowed to remain in the U.S. legally,” she said.

A DHS internal watchdog report based on a survey of 188 ICE detention centers shows that about 90% of ICE detention centers said they had enough masks and liquid soap for detainees. More than a third reported not having enough hand sanitizer for detainees. Twelve percent of facilities said they did not have the capacity to isolate or quarantine a detainee who tested positive for COVID-19. A number of facilities said social distancing was a challenge given space restrictions.

‘JUST SIGN’

Patricia Jimenez, a Mexican asylum seeker who said she fled to the United States after being kidnapped by unknown gunmen, decided to drop her case and seek deportation as the coronavirus swept through the Eloy Federal Contract Facility in Arizona, which has reported 222 COVID-19 cases, the second-largest outbreak in an ICE detention center. Her account was confirmed by her lawyer and her aunt.

“I’m really scared that I might get sick and never see my son again,” she told Reuters in a call in late June from the center, where she’s awaiting deportation.

Jimenez said she fears returning to Mexico.

“But at this moment, I’m more afraid of being here,” she said, citing the death of a guard who she says she had contact within the facility’s kitchen, where she had worked. CoreCivic, the company that operates the center, said the death was from “potential COVID-19-related issues.”

In a statement, a representative of CoreCivic said the company is committed to the safety of its detainees and employees, adding that Jimenez’s claims “do not reflect the affirmative, proactive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 our facility has been taking for months.”

Lucas Castro, a Mexican asylum seeker with diabetes, which makes people vulnerable to complications from the virus, said he also requested deportation after fearing for his life more in detention than back home, where he said he was brutally beaten by a drug gang last year. His account was supported by his wife and the transcript of his “credible-fear” interview, which is part of the asylum process and was reviewed by Reuters.

Eight migrants, including Castro, told Reuters that officials tried to use detainees’ health concerns to push them into agreeing to their deportation.

At Arizona’s La Palma Correctional Facility, where Castro was held, he said detainees frequently requested information about the pandemic and whether they could be granted humanitarian parole or other forms of release.

“Instead, a deportation officer always arrived and told us that if we were genuinely afraid then we should just sign for our deportation,” Castro said. Two other former detainees in the same facility echoed Castro’s account. Castro said his fear of the virus prompted him to ask a judge for deportation, which U.S. records show was ordered in late May.

The second ICE spokeswoman said the agency does not have a policy of encouraging detainees who raise health concerns related to COVID-19 to sign for deportation. She added that La Palma Correctional Facility does not have a record of a complaint lodged by Castro regarding the alleged staff comments.

Pandemic-related logjams within the immigration system have also delayed the repatriation of some migrants.

Guatemalan asylum-seeker Timoteo Vicente said he chose not to appeal a negative ruling in his case in March in part because he deemed the medical care inside the Tacoma ICE Processing Center in Washington State inadequate, leading him to worry about its ability to respond to the pandemic.

In a statement, a representative for GEO Group, the company that contracts with ICE to run the facility, said: “We take our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees with the utmost seriousness.”

Three months later, Vicente is still stranded in detention, awaiting his deportation.

“I’m in an abyss,” Vicente told Reuters in a call from the detention center. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener; Additional reporting by Reade Levinson; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Paul Simao)

Greece speeds up creation of migrant holding centers to ease tension

By Lefteris Papadimas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece plans to accelerate the creation of detention centers on its outlying islands in the Aegean Sea after a backlash against overcrowded camps by some migrants and nearby residents.

Authorities said on Monday they would proceed with the purchase of land on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos, and press ahead with plans to create holding facilities on state-owned land on Kos and Leros.

Thousands of migrants are waiting on the islands for their asylum applications to be processed, most of them in overcrowded camps known as reception centers.

Migrants on Lesbos protested last week against poor living conditions and residents of the island took to the streets demanding the reception facilities close.

“The government has decided to close today’s anarchic facilities and create controlled, closed facilities,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016 before a deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow. There has been a resurgence in arrivals since around September 2019.

Last year, more than 74,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, according to the United Nations refugees agency UNHCR. Most of them arrived on Lesbos, Chios and Samos after crossing from Turkey and about 40,000 are now in effect trapped on the islands.

AID GROUPS SAY ACTION NEEDED

Aid groups have described living conditions in some of the island camps as appalling.

“We need 20,000 people to be transferred from the islands to the mainland in the next weeks and months to come,” Philippe Leclerc, UNCHR’s head in Greece, told journalists after a meeting with Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.

Greece’s conservative New Democracy government, elected last July, has taken a tougher stance toward migration than Syriza, the leftist party that led the previous government.

The government has introduced new regulations which it says will simplify the asylum process and launched a tender for a floating fence in the Aegean which it hopes will deter migrants arriving from Turkey on rafts.

The new detention centers would house new arrivals until their asylum processes were underway, as well as others showing “delinquent behavior” or not entitled to asylum, Petsas said.

Entering and leaving the facilities would be strictly regulated and they would be closed at night, he added.

(Additional reporting by Michele Kambas, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico
By Monica Machicao and Stefanie Eschenbacher

LA PAZ/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Bolivia’s former leader Evo Morales landed in Mexico on Tuesday pledging to stay in politics as security forces back home quelled unrest over the long-serving leftist’s resignation and opponents sought an interim replacement to fill a power vacuum.

Thanking Mexico’s government for “saving his life,” Morales arrived to take up asylum in the country and repeated his accusation that his rivals had ousted him in a coup after violence broke out following a disputed election last month.

“As long as I am alive, we will remain in politics,” Morales told reporters in brief comments after disembarking the plane to be met by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Dressed in a short-sleeved blue shirt, Morales defended his time in government and said that if he were guilty any crime, it was to be indigenous and “anti-imperalist.”

Morales was then whisked away in a military helicopter, television footage showed. Mexican officials have not said where he will stay, citing security concerns.

Morales arrived in a Mexican Air Force plane from the central Bolivian town of Chimore, a stronghold of Morales supporters where the country’s first indigenous president retreated as his 14-year rule imploded.

The departure of Morales, the last of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin American politics at the start of the century, came after the Organization of American States declared on Sunday that there were serious irregularities during the Oct. 20 vote, prompting ruling party allies to quit and the army to urge him to step down.

Opposition lawmakers wanted to formally accept Morales’ resignation and start planning for a temporary leader ahead of a new vote. But their plans looked at risk as Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) said it would boycott the meeting.

Residents of the highland capital La Paz, rocked by protests and looting since last month’s election, said they hoped politicians would succeed in finally restoring order.

“Democracy has been at risk and hopefully it will be resolved today,” said resident Isabel Nadia.

Morales’ flight out was far from simple.

Takeoff was delayed, with supporters surrounding the airport, then the plane was denied permission to fuel in Peru, Ebrard said. So it stopped instead in Paraguay before arriving in Mexico City just after 11 a.m. local time (1700 GMT).

“His life and integrity are safe,” Ebrard said, tweeting a photo of Morales alone in the jet with a downcast expression, displaying Mexico’s red, white and green flag across his lap.

In a region divided along ideological lines over Morales’ fall, Mexico’s leftist government has supported his accusations of a coup.

In La Paz, roadblocks were in place after soldiers and police patrolled into the night to stop fighting between rival political groups and looting that erupted after Morales’ resignation.

The charismatic 60-year-old former coca leaf farmer was beloved by the poor when he won power in 2006.

But he alienated some by insisting on seeking a fourth term, in defiance of term limits and a 2016 referendum in which Bolivians voted against him being allowed to do that.

(For graphic on timeline, see https://graphics.reuters.com/BOLIVIA-ELECTION/0100B30L25D/bolivia.jpg)

(Reporting by Monica Machicao, Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion, Daina Beth Solomon, Julia Love and Diego Ore in Mexico City, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis)

U.S. judge declines to block Trump’s new asylum border rule

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers make an arrest after carrying out a raid in San Francisco, California, U.S. in this July 7, 2019 handout photo. Ron Rogers/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A U.S. district judge on Wednesday declined to block a new rule that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border, handing a victory to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.

Judge Timothy Kelly in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a temporary restraining order that would have blocked a rule the Trump administration implemented on July 16 that requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on their way to the United States, according to a court filing.

Oral arguments took place on Monday.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

The suit is similar to an action led by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenged the Trump administration rule in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That case is due for a hearing on Wednesday.

Trump’s rule to restrict asylum-seekers was his latest anti-immigration measure ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently, the latest coming on Monday with a new rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed illegally and are caught anywhere in the United States, expanding a program typically applied only along the southern border with Mexico.

Democrats have blasted the policies as cruel, faulting the Trump administration for warehousing migrants in crowded detention facilities along the border and separating immigrant children from the adults they have traveled with.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Simao)

Facing new asylum curb, nerves for those waiting at U.S.-Mexico border

A board with the number of migrants that are requesting asylum is pictured at the premises of the state migrant assistance office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Julia Love

CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) – Number 12,026 – better known as Marcial Artigas, 33, from Holguin, Cuba – waited nervously at a migration office at the U.S.-Mexico border as a Mexican official called out numbers from a long list of hopefuls waiting to cross to the United States.

Artigas said he was praying his number would be called next, before a new U.S. policy announced on Monday enters into force that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border.

The Trump administration’s interim rule, set to take effect Tuesday, requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they traveled en route to the United States.

The former cafeteria worker said he left Cuba in February, traveling to Nicaragua by plane before heading north through Central America and into Mexico by bus. If the new policy sticks, he could be required to apply for asylum in Mexico, or any one of the countries he passed through en route.

He had been waiting his turn to cross to El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez since mid-April, joining a line of thousands, according to officials and a list of asylum-seekers the city keeps.

By 9.20 a.m, the official calling out numbers from the National Migration Institute’s Grupo Beta unit had read out 10. He reached number 12,025 and called it a day.

As the other migrants clapped, number 12,025 rose, pumped his fist, and followed the official to cross to the United States to begin his asylum process.

Artigas was wearing a black backpack stuffed with clothing and other essentials, ready to leave Mexico behind for good. If he felt despair at falling a single digit short, the Cuban remained stoic.

He hoped there would be another round of numbers called that afternoon at the migration office, he said.

Still, he said, the constant shifts in U.S. policy made him feel annoyed that while he was playing by the rules, people who crossed illegally and then requested asylum were at an advantage.

“One is here patiently doing things as they should be done,” he said. “There are people who go illegally.”

Beside him, most of the nearly two dozen migrants at the office, in the shadow of the bridge connecting the two counties, appeared not yet to have heard about the newest U.S. policy.

If they had, they appeared unsure about what it might mean for their asylum chances.

Carolina Puente, 35, still had a crushing wait ahead. At number 17,243, hundreds more were scheduled to cross ahead of her, she said.

“I’m desperate,” she said. “Desperate is the word.”

Puente said she had fled violence in Quito, Ecuador, and moved to Cuba two years ago, to live with her husband’s family. But in Cuba she faced poverty and a lack of economic opportunities.

Since June 24, she had been renting a house in Ciudad Juarez. But she said she had little faith in Mexico, which is racked by drug-related violence and high murder rates and notoriously unsafe for migrants.

“This country has opened the doors for us, but it’s an unsafe country,” she said.

Enrique Valenzuela, head of COESPO, the state population commission which oversees the center for migrants in Ciudad Juarez, said he had no prior knowledge of the new U.S. measure, having learned about it on television.

The number of people adding themselves to the asylum list in Ciudad Juarez had been dropping this month and last, he said.

But if the new policy holds, he said, “The number of (asylum) applicants will rocket in Mexico.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)

Trump administration sets ‘new bar’ for immigrants seeking asylum

Migrants cross the Rio Bravo to enter illegally into the United States, to turn themselves in to request asylum, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Becerr

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Monday said it would take steps to make it more difficult for immigrants arriving on the southern border to seek asylum in the United States, putting the onus on them to ask for shelter in other countries.

The Department of Homeland Security, in a statement issued with the Department of Justice, said the interim rule would set a “new bar” for immigrants “by placing further restrictions or limitations on eligibility for aliens who seek asylum in the United States.”

The proposal would make it tougher for applicants who did not apply for protection from persecution or torture where it was available in at least one “third country” through which they traveled en route to the United States.

The Trump administration wants to slow down a flow of asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border. Most are Central Americans who have traveled through Mexico and Guatemala on the way to the border, though some come from as far as Africa.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the initiative would “help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in the statement that while the “United States is a generous country,” it was being “completely overwhelmed” by the hundreds of thousands of “aliens along the southern border.” Many of them, he said, are seeking “meritless asylum claims.”

The measure is intended to take effect with the rule’s publication on Tuesday, according to the statement.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump says U.S. agency will begin removing millions of illegal immigrants

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees arrive at FCI Victorville federal prison in Victorville, California, U.S. June 8, 2018. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday that U.S. authorities would begin next week removing millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally.

“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump tweeted, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he said. He did not offer specifics.

There are an estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally, mainly from Mexico and Central America.

Under a deal reached earlier this month, Mexico has agreed to take Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the United States until their cases are heard in U.S. courts.

The agreement, which included Mexico pledging to deploy National Guard troops to stop Central American immigrants from reaching the U.S. border, averted a Trump threat to hit Mexican imports with tariffs.

Trump also said in the tweet that Guatemala “is getting ready to sign a Safe-Third Agreement.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence suggested last week that Guatemala could receive asylum seekers from its neighbors as a so-called safe third country.

Details of the plan have not been made public, and Guatemala has not publicly confirmed talks that the U.S. State Department said were taking place in Guatemala on Friday.

U.S. rights group Human Rights First said, however, it was “simply ludicrous” for the United States to assert that Guatemala was capable of protecting refugees when its own citizens are fleeing violence.

Mexico has agreed that if its measures to stem the flow of migrants are unsuccessful, it will discuss signing a safe third country agreement with the United States.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)