Biden is attempting to recruit asylum seekers who’re compelled to attend in Mexico underneath the Trump By Reuters program

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Palm Beach International Airport

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By Ted Hesson and Mimi Dwyer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government will begin next week gradually processing asylum seekers who are forced to wait in Mexico under a controversial program launched by former President Donald Trump.

The steps are part of a plan by President Joe Biden’s administration to end the program known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). These efforts are made difficult by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and concerns about illegal immigration.

The Trump administration launched the program in 2019 as part of a far-reaching crackdown on the possibility of seeking asylum in the US, which Trump officials exposed as full of fraud and unsubstantiated allegations. The initiative forced more than 65,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers back across the border waiting for their US court hearings, though far fewer are believed to be in Mexico.

Biden’s government will initially work to process approximately 25,000 migrants with active claims in the program, officials said Thursday.

Biden vowed in the campaign to roll back the restrictive Trump-era immigration policies, including the MPP, informally known as “staying in Mexico.” His administration suspended new entries in the program when he took office on January 20, but did not immediately come up with a plan to bring those already in the program to the United States.

Republicans who embrace Trump’s tough views on immigration have criticized the end of the MPP and could use it as fuel for political attacks if illegal immigration increases under Biden’s watch.

Senior Biden officials have stressed over the past few weeks that migrants should not attempt to enter the United States and stated that they need more time to build the ability to process more asylum seekers.

“Individuals who are not eligible at this initial stage should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, Minister of Homeland Security, in a statement. “Due to the current pandemic, restrictions on the border remain in place and will be enforced.”

During a conversation with reporters Thursday evening, three Biden administration officials described plans to reverse the program. The first phase began on February 19th.

Under the plan, migrants must register with international organizations online or by phone and wait for instructions. An international organization will test migrants in Mexico for the novel corona virus.

Biden officials declined to identify the organizations on Thursday, saying they would be inundated with inquiries.

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The migrants’ claims will initially be negotiated at three ports of entry along the border, with organizations working to identify those who have been in line the longest and those who are considered to be particularly at risk.

In two of the ports, the Biden government expects 300 people a day, which could increase over time.

“We’re going to start small,” said one of the officials, who all asked for anonymity.

The Biden officials refused to designate the ports where the administration wanted to start processing, citing fears that people would rush to those places.

The United States developed the strategy in close consultation with the Mexican authorities, officials said.

Even if Biden tries to end one Trump program, he faces mounting pressure from supporters to end another known as Title 42. The COVID-era ruling enables US authorities to expedite migrants who have been illegally captured across the border to Mexico in a quick process.

The Biden government has not said whether it will end this program.

Efforts to process MPP participants are due to the surge in arrests of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border following a sharp drop at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

US officials met nearly 78,000 migrants in January who tried to cross the southern border illegally or who were refused entry at ports of entry. This corresponds to an increase of 6% compared to the previous month.

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