Friday August 7th, 2020 5:51AM

US asylum shift targets Spanish speakers, Latin Americans

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Border agents have been told to explicitly target Spanish speakers and migrants from Latin America in carrying out a Trump administration program requiring asylum seekers wait in Mexico, according to memos obtained by The Associated Press that reveal some inner workings of a top government priority to address the burgeoning number of Central Americans arriving in the country.

The Trump administration launched the program in late January in what marks a potentially seismic shift on how the U.S. handles the cases of immigrants seeking asylum and fleeing persecution in their homeland. The program initially applied only to those who turned themselves in at official border crossings, but a memo from a division chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector says it expanded Friday to include people who cross the border illegally.

The guidance includes instruction about various groups of immigrants who are not to be sent back to Mexico and instead go through the traditional asylum process in the U.S. immigration court system. They include pregnant women, LGBT migrants and people suffering medical issues. Authorities said previously that Mexican asylum seekers are excluded, as are children traveling alone.

U.S. officials must check if the asylum seeker has any felony convictions and notify Mexico at least 12 hours before they are returned. Those who cross illegally must have come as single adults, though the administration is in talks with the Mexican government to include families.

The program is being implemented as border arrests soared in February to a 12-year-high and more than half of those stopped arrived as families, many of them asylum seekers who generally turn themselves in instead of trying to elude capture. Guatemala and Honduras have replaced Mexico as the top countries, a remarkable shift from only a few years ago.

The instructions say Mexican officials insist that no more than 20 asylum seekers are returned each day from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico, on Monday through Saturday, underscoring challenges that the U.S. faces in trying to quickly ramp up one of its top border enforcement priorities and most significant changes to the U.S. immigration system of Donald Trump's presidency. Authorities said Tuesday that more than 76,000 were stopped or apprehended at the Mexican border in February, more than double the same period last year.

A memo on Tuesday to top Border Patrol officials in San Diego said the agency is under "pressures to utilize this program as much as we can."

Asylum-seeking families are typically released from U.S. custody immediately and allowed to settle with family or friends while their cases wind through immigration courts, which often takes years. Critics say that amounts to "catch-and-release," which administration officials want to limit with the new Mexico program.

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security described the program as "another tool available in the law" to respond to the record numbers of Central American migrants arriving at the border in recent months. The agency said the program is being carried out in a "thoughtful and deliberate manner" that protects vulnerable migrants and is done in collaboration with the Mexican government.

Two U.S. officials who were not authorized to discuss the internal guidance and spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed contents of the memos obtained by the AP.

Explicitly targeting Spanish speakers and Latin Americans had not been previously disclosed, though some critics said it was no surprise considering that recent arrest numbers are largely Central Americans.

Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the criteria "does smack of the same concerns we had in the Muslim ban," referring to Trump's ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, which was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court.

"We know they are trying to get at Central American asylum seekers but to see it written there so blatantly is so disturbing," said Rabinovitz, whose organization was among those that sued the administration last month to block the policy.

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has made the administration's "Migrant Protection Protocols" a top priority, working for months with Mexican counterparts to seal the broad outlines of an agreement in November.

Testifying Wednesday in Congress, Nielsen said the U.S., working with Mexico, was exercising its authority to make people wait outside the country.

"All asylum seekers have the opportunity to present their case," she said. "We're not turning anybody around."

The effort has gotten off to a modest start amid mixed signals from Mexican officials and been limited to San Diego. Tonatiuh Guillen, who heads Mexico's immigration agency, told the AP that Mexico accepted 112 Central Americans during the first five weeks, including 25 children. Homeland Security has declined to release numbers.

A Homeland Security official, speaking to reporters Friday on a conference call on condition of anonymity, said the administration planned to grow the effort exponentially across the border, including to people who cross illegally between border crossings. The official declined to say when or where but said it was likely to be expanded in the next few weeks.

One memo obtained by the AP shows that it had been expanded on the same day.


Associated Press Writer Colleen Long contributed to this report from Washington.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP World News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
R. Kelly goes back to jail, takes risks with TV interview
R. Kelly's day began with a nationally televised broadcast in which he ranted while pleading with viewers to believe that he'd never had sex with anyone under 17 and never held anyone against her will
9:09PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Gov sees Alabama tornado rubble as residents seek to recover
Alabama's governor takes walking tour of damage from killer tornado as residents pick through what's left of their shattered homes for anything salvageable
9:09PM ( 29 minutes ago )
US asylum shift targets Spanish speakers, Latin Americans
A major change in U.S. asylum practices targets Spanish speakers and Latin Americans
9:08PM ( 29 minutes ago )
U.S. News
N Korea airs documentary glorifying Kim's summit with Trump
North Korea's state TV on Wednesday aired a documentary glorifying leader Kim Jong Un's recent visit to Vietnam that omitted a failed nuclear negotiation with President Donald Trump last week
9:25PM ( 13 minutes ago )
Zuckerberg promises a privacy-friendly Facebook, sort of
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is laying out a new "privacy-focused" vision for social networking
9:21PM ( 17 minutes ago )
Police: Man who killed parents feared psychiatric commitment
A Southern California man charged with the murders of his parents and their housekeeper in an affluent beach community told police during a 911 call that he killed his parents, feared being sent to psychiatric hospital
9:20PM ( 18 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Kelly interview becomes a spotlight moment for Gayle King
CBS' Gayle King proves unflappable during an emotional interview with R&B star R. Kelly that aired on 'CBS This Morning.'
8:32PM ( 1 hour ago )
Veteran musher Aliy Zirkle takes lead in Alaska's Iditarod
Veteran musher Aliy Zirkle has taken the lead in Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, seeking to become the first woman to win in nearly three decades
8:19PM ( 1 hour ago )
FIFA's record finances reignites World Cup pay parity debate
FIFA's record finances have renewed debate over why Women's World Cup winners earn so much less than their male counterparts
8:18PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Gov tours Alabama tornado damage, search for victims ends
Alabama's governor tours damage of a monstrous weekend tornado that killed 23 people, walking a country road lined with shattered homes
6:11PM ( 3 hours ago )
Memos reveal details behind new Trump asylum program
Internal guidelines obtained by The Associated Press show some of the inner-workings of the Trump administration's effort to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico
5:55PM ( 3 hours ago )
R. Kelly taken back into custody after child-support hearing
R. Kelly has been taken back into custody after appearing at a child-support hearing
5:37PM ( 4 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Sen. McSally, ex-Air Force pilot, says officer raped her
Sen. Martha McSally, the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, says she was raped in the Air Force by a superior officer
5:29PM ( 4 hours ago )
The Latest: Kelly detained after child support hearing
Authorities say R&B singer R. Kelly was taken into custody during a hearing in Chicago over unpaid child support
4:47PM ( 4 hours ago )
Omar's Israel remarks expose Democrats' simmering divisions
Omar's Israel remarks expose Democrats' simmering divisions as House leaders plan resolution against anti-Semitism
3:23PM ( 6 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Trump: Civilians killed in intelligence ops to go unreported
President Donald Trump is revoking an Obama-era requirement for reporting civilian casualties that result from U.S. intelligence operations in non-combat areas across the globe
6:20PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Lawyer alleges anti-Ghosn 'plot' within Nissan
A French lawyer for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn has blamed his client's troubles on a "plot against him" within Nissan for trying to draw the Japanese automaker closer to French vehicle maker Renault
4:49PM ( 4 hours ago )
Police link Scotland university device to London mail bombs
British police said a suspicious package destroyed by bomb-disposal experts at the University of Glasgow on Wednesday contained an explosive device and was linked to three letter bombs sent to two London airports and a railway station
4:26PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP World News
R. Kelly goes back to jail, takes risks with TV interview
R. Kelly's day began with a nationally televised broadcast in which he ranted while pleading with viewers to believe that he'd never had sex with anyone under 17 and never held anyone against her will
9:09PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Gov sees Alabama tornado rubble as residents seek to recover
Alabama's governor takes walking tour of damage from killer tornado as residents pick through what's left of their shattered homes for anything salvageable
9:09PM ( 29 minutes ago )
Las Vegas bets on Elon Musk for tunnel transit system
Las Vegas's tourism officials are trusting entrepreneur Elon Musk to build an express tunnel transit system that would use autonomous electric vehicles
8:42PM ( 56 minutes ago )
US plans end to wolf protections; critics say it's premature
U.S. wildlife officials say they will lift protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 states
8:06PM ( 1 hour ago )
Eyes in the sky: Heat-seeking drones used after tornado
Law enforcement officers used heat-seeking drones to search for survivors in the wreckage of the tornadoes that ravaged Alabama
7:33PM ( 2 hours ago )