The U.S. has unexpectedly scrapped plans to carry asylum seekers to Texas at two ports of entry, dashing the expectations of hundreds who have been waiting in Mexico for months under a Trump-era scheme that President Joe Biden has vowed to unwind.
In a statement on Monday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that “given current operational considerations,” it could no longer say when migrants will start being brought in via ports in Brownsville and El Paso, Texas.
Last week, the department said it would start accepting asylum seekers with active cases on Monday and Friday at those sites, respectively. Texas is recovering from a winter storm that has wiped out government-wide electricity and water supplies.
A DHS spokeswoman did not provide a clear reason for the delay but said that once international partners introduced such steps to ensure protection, health and proper processing systems, the agency will begin to use those locations.
Biden vowed to scale back the Trump-era initiative, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which, pending US immigration court hearings, pushed more than 65,000 mostly Central American asylum seekers back across the border.
Most returned home, but some remained in Mexico, prone to abduction and other abuse, in often squalid or dangerous conditions.
The Biden administration said it will first try to negotiate with around 25,000 people with active cases and a website for people to register has been set up by the United Nations.
“We are really confused because we don’t see any change. We are just looking for help,” said Josue Cornejo, a migrant from Honduras who has been stuck in a makeshift camp in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, for more than a year.
“They aren’t telling us anything,” he said in a video message.
According to Democratic Representative Nanette Barragan, who visited the border, the effort to reverse the policy began slowly on Friday at the port of entry in San Ysidro, California, where 50 asylum seekers have been processed so far.
Several hundred migrants have gathered across the border in Tijuana in recent days, many of them not part of the MPP program but hoping to be allowed to join the US. Some families with small children and people setting up tents are among the migrants.
US officials state that under COVID-19-era laws, anyone who tries to join and does not have an active MPP case will be automatically expelled.
A UN official said on Monday that since Friday, the organization has registered over 7,700 migrants with active cases. The official said that in the coming days, asylum seekers at the Matamoros camp will be processed.
The body is also charged with checking migrants in Mexico for COVID-19 before they arrive at US ports of entry, while US-based non-profit organizations provide migrants with shelters to quarantine them upon arrival.
On Friday, Mark Manly, a UN official in Mexico, told the Reuters news agency that the website often ran slowly but called it “teething issues.”