Asylum Seekers Wait in Mexico

News Brief: Trump Announces Asylum Seekers Must Wait in Mexico

December 21, 2018

Throughout the fall, we’ve followed the unraveling of asylum procedures and policies at the US-Mexico border. In October 2018, a migrant caravan consisting of thousands of potential asylees began an arduous and perilous journey from Honduras. Its goal? American soil, where asylum seekers can wait in safety while U.S. courts process their claims.

In November, we wrote about a controversial policy that the Trump administration was considering. Titled “Remain in Mexico,” the potential new rule would force asylum seekers, as described, remain in Mexico for the weeks or perhaps months it takes for their claims to process. The Washington Post reported first on this policy and the Trump administration’s potential talks with Mexico. You can read further, including our article about “Remain in Mexico,” here.

“Migrant Protection Protocols”

Now, the Trump administration has solidified plans with Mexico and moved its agenda forward. On Thursday, secretary of homeland security Kristjen Nielsen unveiled what the administration calls “Migrant Protection Protocols.” These protocols, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asserts, will prevent migrants from falsely seeking asylum, as well as prevent foreign nationals from “disappearing” while awaiting court dates and decisions. President Trump refers to the latter argument as “catch and release.” The Trump administration and top officials discuss this “issue” often.

Regarding potential asylees, Nielsen said Thursday, “They will have to wait for approval to come into the United States. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America.” She continued, “If they are not, they will be removed to their home countries.”

When The Post originally reported about “Remain in Mexico,” the Mexican government would not commit to any decision and remained relatively silent about any talks. Now, Mexico has agreed to plan for a temporary time frame, citing “humanitarian reasons.”[1] But a lead adviser for the Mexican foreign ministry suggested to The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. made a “unilateral” decision. It is unclear at this time how vigorously Mexico will protect asylum seekers as they wait for U.S. action and decisions.

The administration’s “policy shift amounts to the boldest effort yet by the Trump administration to discourage people from seeking refuge in the United States,” according to The New York Times.

What Does It All Mean?

In alignment with Secretary Nielsen’s statement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted an announcement on its website. This official announcement describes the aforementioned “Migrant Protection Protocols” in more detail and describes policy-specific processes.

According to DHS, the policy is effective immediately. While it’s unclear how quickly such rules will take effect, migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border should prepare for this change in U.S. policy.

Specific details of “Migrant Protection Protocols” are listed below, according to DHS’s website:

  • Firstly, the U.S. will bar persons with credible asylum claims from entering American soil.
  • Secondly, asylum candidates will wait in Mexico while their claim processes through U.S. immigration court.
  • Mexico will provide humanitarian visas and work authorizations to U.S. asylum candidates.
  • After processing claims, DHS will provide a “Notice to Appear” to asylum seekers, which will include their scheduled court date.
  • Asylum seekers may enter the United States for their court appearance(s).
  • Asylum seekers will have access to immigration attorneys.
  • If U.S. immigration courts approve a candidate’s asylum claim, they will receive official immigration status and enter the U.S.
  • Finally, those with denied asylum claims must return to their home countries.

Will People Challenge “Migrant Protection Protocols” in Court?

Considering the vast ramifications of this new policy, it is almost certain that human rights groups will challenge it. First, migrants and asylum seekers are universally vulnerable populations. Many flee danger that may follow them to Mexico, and others may fall victim to opportunistic criminals. This is especially true for families, women, and children. For example, two teens in a migrant camp were killed this week in Tijuana, victims of an apparent robbery.

Therefore, if the U.S. and Mexico cannot guarantee the safety of every single asylum seeker, that presents a major humanitarian crisis. For these reasons and more, Nanthaveth & Associates believes it likely that “Migrant Protection Protocols” will be quickly challenged in the U.S. court system.

For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told NPR that it would challenge any policy that put people in danger. An ACLU representative stated that any such policy “cannot be legal unless [lawmakers] can assure all the asylum-seekers who will be stranded in Mexico…will be safe – not only from persecution by state actors in Mexico, but by criminal gangs.”

In conclusion, Nanthaveth & Associates continues to monitor the developing situation and updates will be posted as they become available. You can always check our blog for updates.

Don’t Hesitate to Contact an Expert Immigration Lawyer

The changing political landscape in the U.S. is incredibly difficult to traverse. With new developments weekly, it’s difficult to keep up and discern truth and fiction. Therefore, if Trump’s policies hurting asylees puts you or your loved ones at risk, don’t hesitate to contact an immigration attorney.

The expert lawyers at Nanthaveth & Associates continue to monitor the situation. Without a doubt, we are ready to help you and your family with any immigration question or concern. Contact our office today to schedule a free initial consultation. We’ll discuss your individual case and explain what we can do to help.


[1] Barajas, J. (2018, December 20). 4 questions about the Trump administration’s decision to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico. PBS News Hour. Retrieved from