The Trump administration is postponing all hearings related to the administration’s controversial policy of returning migrants to Mexico until their court date in the US as a result of the coronavirus, the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review announced Monday evening.
Hearings set through through April 22 will be rescheduled, according to a statement from EOIR, which oversees the nation’s immigration courts. It added, however, that the administration’s policy — officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols — will not be canceled, nor will any hearings. .
The administration’s so-called Remain in Mexico policy requires migrants, many of whom are from Central America, to wait in Mexico for the duration of their immigration hearings. It has resulted in the creation of makeshift camps where hundreds of migrants have waited for weeks, if not months, in squalid and unsafe conditions. In some cases, migrant families have opted to send children across the US-Mexico border alone.
The growing coronavirus pandemic and new restrictions at the US-Mexico border have raised questions about the program and its enrollees.
EOIR said Monday that any individual with a hearing date through April 22 should still present themselves at their designated port of entry on their previously scheduled date “to receive a tear sheet and hearing notice containing their new hearing dates.”
The administration’s policy has ping-ponged in the courts since its implementation, ultimately landing before the Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court said that the policy can stay in effect while legal challenges play out, marking a victory for the administration, which has increasingly relied on the program since its implementation.
Lawyers for the asylum seekers called the government’s policy illegal, adding that in the months that it has been in effect “reports of murder, rape, torture kidnapping, and other violent assaults against returned asylum seekers have climbed.”
But the administration argued, amid the coronavirus outbreak, that blocking the program would prompt a “rush to the border.” In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Defense Department deployed its Crisis Response Force in support of US Customs and Border Protection, resulting in approximately 160 active duty personnel shifted to the southern border.
EOIR concluded its statement Monday saying that the agency, along with the Department of Homeland Security, is “deeply committed to ensuring that individuals ‘have their day in court’ while also ensuring the health and safety of aliens, our frontline officers, immigration court professionals, and our citizens.”