The Trump administration just won a huge negotiation with Mexico — and besides building a “big, beautiful wall” is one of the biggest moves the White House has done to secure America’s southern border since the president took office.
Immigrants seeking asylum will no longer be released into the U.S. while their immigration cases play out, the Trump administration said on Thursday. Mexico’s government has agreed to hold them in their country in one of the most significant moves on immigration since the president took office.
“They will not be able to disappear into the United States,” Nielsen said on Thursday in remarks before the House Judiciary Committee. “They will have to wait for approval. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America. If they are not, they will be removed to their home countries.”
The new policy covers immigrants apprehended at border entry points, those who have been interviews by U.S. immigration authorities and those who have received an immigration court date. It does not apply to families traveling with children or to Mexican nationals making asylum claims.
Asylum seekers typically wait years on average before their cases are resolved, allowing them to put down roots in the U.S. while they wait. Many are allowed to work while their cases progress. Often, they go missing or never show up for their court date.
Critics say the immigrants are gaming the system. Only about 9 percent of those who apply are actually granted asylum, and administration officials have long said too many migrants make false claims as a way to stay in the U.S.
Discussions between U.S. and Mexico to hammer out the arrangement began well before Mexico’s new president, Manuel Lopez Obrador, took office on Dec. 1. On Thursday, the Mexican foreign ministry said Mexico had agreed to the policy.
U.S. officials said the changes will be rolled out gradually across the border. Supporters say the move was long overdue.
More than 100,000 immigrants were caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in October and November, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
U.S. authorities have been grappling in recent years with an increase in children traveling alone or with family. Critics say it’s a tactic to game the system by illegal groups.
Immigrant advocates say violence in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras is driving people north, and many are coming to seek asylum. Nearly 100,000 immigrants requested initial asylum screenings during the fiscal year ending in September, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Trump administration officials say one of the major pull factors for migrants coming across the border is the idea that they can wait in the United States for months or even years as their asylum cases are decided. They argue many disappear into the U.S. and forcing them to wait in Mexico will cut down on what administration officials say are false asylum claims. The policy change applies only to migrants coming from countries other than Mexico, officials said.
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Thousands of migrants have come up from Central America in recent weeks as part of caravans. President Donald Trump used his national security powers to put in place regulations that denied asylum to anyone caught crossing illegally, but a judge has halted that change as a lawsuit progresses.
Nielsen said in a statement the policy would be done legally.
“This will also allow us to focus more attention on those who are actually fleeing persecution,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article