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US Expels Thousands of Asylum Seekers to Mexico Over Virus Fears


In this Thursday, March 14, 2019, file photo, a Border Patrol agent talks with a group suspected of having entered the U.S. illegally near McAllen, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
US Expels Thousands of Asylum Seekers to Mexico Over Virus Fears
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The administration of United States President Donald Trump is using a public health law to limit the number of people who can seek asylum in the U.S. People seeking safety in the U.S. from Mexico are quickly returned to Mexico without the chance to ask for asylum.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said that nearly 10,000 Mexicans and Central Americans have been expelled to Mexico since the rules took effect on March 21. Mark Morgan is the agency’s acting leader. He said the changes were “not about immigration.”

Morgan said there was a “public health crisis” from the coronavirus pandemic. He added that there is a “national emergency declared by this president to protect the health and safety of every American in this country.”

Mexico is providing important support. It has agreed to take migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. More than 50 percent of all people arrested at the U.S. border last year were from those countries.

The Trump administration has not released a lot of information about the rules. They have not been challenged in court. The change got little attention when it was released to the public on March 20. That was the same day Trump announced he was closing the southern border to unnecessary travel.

The administration used a law permitting the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ban foreigners if their entry would create “a serious danger” related to the spread of disease. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield banned foreigners for 30 days. He said he may extend the ban.

“The administration is able to do what they always wanted to do. I don’t see this slowing down,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick. He is with the American Immigration Council, which has criticized the Trump administration.

Mexico said it will reject children who are alone and other vulnerable people. Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez is Mexico’s consul general in San Diego. He said that includes people who are over 65, pregnant or sick.

A congressional assistant said the U.S. also is returning Central American children who travel with grandparents, brothers and sisters or other relatives. The assistant received information from Customs and Border Protection officials and asked not to be identified because the information was not supposed to be made public. Until recently, children without their parents were immediately put on the path to asylum, the Associated Press says.

Redfield wrote that the health danger of holding migrants at detention centers is the reason for the order.

Morgan said some cases for asylum would be considered.

ProPublica is an independent organization of reporters. It has a Border Patrol document that explains when asylum should be considered. For example, when an agent decides a migrant’s fears of being tortured are “reasonably believable,” the migrant can ask for asylum under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It is a lower level of asylum that is more difficult to receive.

Under the rules, agents take migrants to the nearest border crossing in ways that reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. Those not sent to Mexico are flown to their home countries.

CBP said it is currently holding fewer than 100 people. Last year, the agency was holding more than 19,000 as a wave of people tried to cross the border. During the first 11 days of the new rules, 6,375 people were expelled at the Mexican border and 20 at the Canadian border.

Ten Senate Democrats sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. He supervises border agencies.

They wrote, “A public health crisis does not give the Executive Branch a free pass to violate constitutional rights, nor does it give the Executive Branch permission to operate outside of the law.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr.was the editor.

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Words in This Story

expel– v. to remove someone from a school, club or country

pandemic– n. an illness that spreads to other countries

challenge– v. to question the authority of someone or something

vulnerable– adj. able to be hurt

consul – n. an official who works with visas

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