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The Department of Homeland Security has announced that, beginning Friday, asylum-seekers at the San Ysidro port of entry are being sent back to Mexico to await asylum hearings.
The California port near San Diego is the first to change procedures as a result of a new policy announced last month by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, report the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox and Reuters. The new policy is the result of negotiations with Mexico.
An anonymous source told the New York Times that, over the next two weeks, ports in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona also will begin returning asylum-seekers to Mexico.
DHS calls the new policy “migrant protection protocols” and says it pertains to anyone trying to enter the country illegally and without documentation, including asylum-seekers.
In a press release, the department says it has the authority to send asylum-seekers to Mexico under Section 235 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Section 235 says those entering the country illegally “from a foreign territory contiguous to the U.S.” may be returned “to that territory pending a [removal] proceeding.”
Some immigrant rights groups disagree with the secretary’s interpretation. According to a Human Rights First fact sheet, the new policy violates statutory procedures requiring U.S. detention or parole release for asylum-seekers who pass credible fear interviews. The group also says the contiguous territory provision has an exemption for asylum-seekers.
Human Rights First also expresses concern that sending asylum-seekers to Mexico will harm their access to legal counsel.
Legal challenges are possible, too. The Post spoke with Kevin Appleby, a senior director at the Center for Migration Studies. “The president thinks he can do this unilaterally,” Appleby said. “But it’s a blatant rejection of current law.”