US unwinds Trump policy making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico

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A woman from Honduras waiting to cross into the United States, center, combs her hair as children pass in a shelter Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Tijuana, Mexico. After many months and sometimes up to two years of waiting in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings, migrants seeking asylum in the United States are being allowed in the country starting Friday to be released until their cases conclude. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

SAN DIEGO – The Biden administration moved to restore the asylum system to the way it worked for decades Friday by releasing a group of asylum-seekers into the United States, ending their long wait in Mexico and unraveling one of former President Donald Trump’s signature immigration policies.

The 25 people who arrived are the first of an estimated 25,000 asylum-seekers with active cases in the “Remain in Mexico" program who will now wait in the U.S. for their court hearings instead of south of the border. Wary of a surge of migrants, American officials are warning people not to come to the border and to register on a website that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees launched Friday.

The new arrivals were taken to San Diego hotels to quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic before they travel to their final destinations in the U.S. to stay with relatives, friends or sponsors.

President Joe Biden is making good on his promise to end a policy that Trump said was critical to reversing a surge of asylum-seekers, which peaked in 2019. The program, known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols,” changed the way people traditionally had been treated by the U.S. government as they sought protection from violence and persecution. It exposed them to violence in Mexican border cities and made it difficult to find lawyers and communicate with courts about their cases.

There were unanswered questions about Biden's changes, including how Central Americans who returned home will get back to the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s also unclear how long it will take to work through all the cases, with the oldest going first.

There was also some confusion at the border. About 100 people gathered Friday at the crossing in Tijuana, Mexico, sharing rumors and hoping to glean information about when they would be allowed into the United States while their cases are decided by the courts.

The U.S. is expected to release 25 people a day in San Diego who had been forced to wait in Mexico, said Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which is playing a critical support role. Authorities can process up to 300 a day at the San Diego border crossing, but Hopkins said it's not known when they will change the target of 25 a day.

People also were expected to be let into the country starting Monday in Brownsville, Texas, and next Friday in El Paso, Texas.