Line to exit MPP program grows to 15,000 in less than two weeks

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UN official, El Paso nonprofits say readmission of asylum-seekers proceeds in "smooth and orderly" manner

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The U.S. government estimates some 25,000 asylum-seekers waiting in Mexico could be eligible to enter the U.S. as the Biden administration rolls back the Migrant Protection Protocols program.

As of Wednesday, more than 15,000 of those already had registered to exit the MPP program, a UN official said. Just a week earlier the line was only 8,600 strong.

“We are registering people through a number of different channels. One of them is the conecta.acnur.org website that we created for this purpose, but they’re also using a telephone hotline, social media channels and our staff is also registering MPP cases in person, on-site,” said Christopher Boian, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

But whereas the number of petitions to pursue active asylum cases from the safety of homes belonging to family members or sponsors in the United States has been extraordinary, the number of families and individuals allowed to cross the border remains minuscule by comparison.

As of Tuesday, the U.S. government had green-lighted 862 petitioners on MPP to enter the country, and only 76 of those had done so through El Paso, the UN official said.

“The decision as to who will enter, where they will enter and when is made by U.S. border authorities. The process is very much in line with the first phase of this operation as was explained to us by the U.S. government on how they wanted it to work,” Boian said. “The process is working very smoothly.”

That has to do with the limited number of asylum-seekers coming in so far. In El Paso, plans call for the number of people exiting MPP on a daily basis to double to 50 by March 10, and to increase to 75 perhaps by the end of the month.

“Right now, we’re doing good as far as volunteers and resources. Everything is going well and (the asylum seekers) are leaving El Paso” in a short period of time, said Ruben Garcia, executive director of Annunciation House in El Paso.

The nonprofit is housing all the asylum-seekers cleared by the Department of Homeland Security to enter the country through the El Paso port. None of them so far have stepped inside a detention center. That wasn’t the case in late 2018 and early 2019, when asylum-seekers were stuffed into processing stations and detention centers, prompting advocates and many elected officials to allege neglect and abuse of detainees.

Migrants awaiting processing are held in temporary fencing underneath the Paso Del Norte Bridge on March 28, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has temporarily closed all highway checkpoints along the 268-mile stretch of border in the El Paso sector to try to stem a surge in illegal entry. (Photo by Christ Chavez/Getty Images)

Boian said the governments of the United States and Mexico have asked UN agencies to help manage the process this time around.

The UN Refugee Agency is taking care of registering those applying to exit MPP; the International Organization for Migration is providing COVID-19 testing; and UNICEF (the UN’s Children’s Fund) is looking after unaccompanied minors.

The current ‘Mexico mission’

The UN Refugee Agency has been around for 70 years and its 17,000 employees are currently deployed in 130 countries.

Prior to last fall, the Mexico mission primarily dealt with refugees near the Guatemala border.

International Organization for Migration staff members escort asylum seekers over the Paso del Norte International Bridge last week. (Border Report photo)

“Northern Mexico is a relatively recent development,” Boian said. “It’s a very focused effort that the United States has asked us to help with. Our staff has been in touch with (non-government organizations), civil society and, of course, agencies that are present in those areas. We try to stay in close touch with all of the actors involved in a situation like this to provide an efficient response.”

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