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Dueling Remain in Mexico orders cause confusion and tension in the borderlands

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PASO

A group of asylum seekers gather at the Paso Del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juárez. The group sought entry into the United States after learning that the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy was blocked by a federal court. Feb 28, 2020. Jordyn Rozensky for The Texas Tribune

EL A major international crossing that connects Texas to Mexico was closed Friday and part of Saturday morning after migrant groups amassed in Ciudad Juárez in what American authorities said could pose a potential threat to the border area.

The temporary closing of downtown’s Paso Del Norte international bridge capped off a day of confusion and chaos after a federal appellate court blocked the Migrant Protection Protocols, one of President Trump’s signature immigration policies. But the end of the program, also called “Remain in Mexico”, was short-lived after the same court, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, stayed its own order.

Word of the reversal came after hundreds of migrants in Ciudad Juárez had gathered at the foot of the international bridge with the hopes of entering the United States. Customs and Border Protection officers then halted northbound vehicular traffic and subsequently shut down pedestrian crossings as well. El Paso Police Department officers cordoned off several blocks near the bridge with red police tape and several people were turned back on the most direct route to the PDN bridge and instead told to take a longer route to the nearby Stanton bridge, which was operating normally and closes at 11 pm.

“[Customs and Border Protection] officers stopped the flow of northbound traffic at the Paso Del Norte bridge at approximately 7:20 p.m. Friday in an effort to eliminate the ability for a large group of migrants that had formed on the Mexican side of the border to illegally and forcefully surge through the ports of entry,” CBP spokesperson Roger Maier said in an email. “This step helps CBP ensure safety of travelers, facilities and CBP employees.”

The bridge reopened Saturday. It was the only crossing affected.

The MPP program requires that asylum seekers wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings in U.S. courts. The program expanded to the El Paso/Ciudad Juárez area last March and about 60,000 migrants have been placed in the program throughout the border, including about 20,000 in this border region. Human rights and immigration attorneys have said MPP places migrants in danger in lawless areas of Mexico. A recent report by Human Rights First cited 636 instances of crimes like rape, kidnapping and torture committed against migrants since January 2019.

A group of asylum seekers gathers at the Paso Del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juárez.

A group of asylum seekers gathers at the Paso Del Norte International Bridge in Ciudad Juárez. Jordyn Rozensky for The Texas Tribune

Observers in Ciudad Juárez said the migrants were anxious and confused Friday, but they were also excited about the prospect of entering the United States. Some were seen taking selfies or video chatting with relatives and there was no mad rush toward Texas.

Immigrant rights groups and attorneys cheered Friday’s earlier decision that halted the program but cautioned that the ruling could result in the immediate detention of or a fast-track of deportation proceedings for migrants who enter the United States. But the Trump administration immediately asked the order be put on hold pending further consideration by the court. Subsequent filings are due by Tuesday, according to the order.

Judy Rabinovitz, the special counsel at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case, said Friday’s latest ruling is a limited setback.

“This is a temporary step and does not change the fact that courts have ruled multiple times against this illegal policy. We will continue working to permanently end this unspeakably cruel policy,” she said in a statement.

It’s unclear when the issue will be ultimately resolved as the case is expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.