PHOENIX (AP) — Asylum-seekers who crossed the border in Arizona were bused to Texas Friday to be sent back to Mexico to wait for their hearings to wind through U.S. immigration courts, extending the practice across the entire border, a U.S. official said.
U.S. authorities plan to run one bus a day from Tucson to El Paso while scouting border locations in Arizona that could be built up to accommodate large numbers of people in court on the U.S. side, with enough shelters and services on the Mexican side while they wait for their hearings, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for public release.
Asylum-seekers who cross the border in western Arizona, around Yuma, are bused to Calexico, California, and returned to Mexico there, the official said. Their court dates are in San Diego.
Arizona was the only busy stretch of the border where the policy hadn’t reached. Under a policy known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols” and colloquially as “Remain in Mexico,” more than 55,000 asylum-seekers were sent back to Mexico within nine months after it was introduced in San Diego in January. It later expanded to Calexico in California and El Paso, Laredo, Eagle Pass and Brownsville in Texas.
While border arrests have plunged from a 13-year high in May, the Tucson corridor has been headed in the opposite direction. Arrests in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector jumped 55% from August to October, making it the second-busiest route after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said that it was “fully operational” across the border. Mexicans are exempt from the policy.
Chad Wolf, the Homeland Security Department’s acting secretary, said Friday in a tweet that the policy “works and is a game-changer in addressing the ongoing border crisis.”
Critics note that asylum seekers are sent to extremely violent Mexican border cities and argue that they are denied fair treatment in U.S. immigration court. Human Rights First, and advocacy group that has criticized the policy, said in a report last month there were more than 340 public reports of rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent crimes against asylum-seekers who have been sent back.
Asylum-seekers from Arizona will be made to wait in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez for court hearings in El Paso.
“At taxpayer expense, this decision will transport people seeking asylum in Arizona over 300 miles (480 kilometers) to a dangerous Mexican city, where it is difficult to access legal services and where few people have the support of their family and communities,” said Katie Sharar, director of communications for the Kino Border Initiative, a Catholic organization that helps migrants.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a bid to temporarily block the policy during a legal challenge.
Spagat reported from San Diego.