MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced a major change in immigration policy, saying it would send non-Mexican migrants back south of the border while their U.S. asylum requests are processed.
Mexico’s government said that it would accept some of those migrants for humanitarian reasons, in what many will see as a concession to U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
“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,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.
“Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico.”
In response, Mexico’s foreign ministry underscored that it still has the right to admit or reject the entry of foreigners into its territory.
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“Mexico’s government has decided to take the following actions to benefit migrants, in particular unaccompanied and accompanied minors, and to protect the rights of those who want to start an asylum process in the United States.”
The ministry said the actions taken by the Mexican and U.S. governments do not constitute a “safe third country” scheme, where migrants would have to request U.S. asylum while in Mexico.
Trump tweeted on Nov. 24 that migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border would stay in Mexico until their asylum claims were individually approved in U.S. courts.
Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, took office on Dec. 1.
The arrival of several thousand Central Americans in Mexico’s border city of Tijuana about a month ago prompted Trump to mobilize the U.S. military to beef up border security, while restricting the number of asylum applications accepted per day.
Illegal crossings at the southern border have dropped dramatically since the late 1970s, but in recent years applications for asylum have ballooned and more Central American families and unaccompanied children are migrating to the United States.
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