SAN DIEGO – The Biden administration has quietly tasked six humanitarian groups with recommending which migrants should be allowed into the United States to pursue asylum as it faces mounting pressure to lift public health rules that have barred people from seeking protection.
The consortium of groups is determining who is most vulnerable out of those waiting in Mexico to get into the U.S., and the criteria they are using have not been made public. It comes as large numbers of migrants are crossing the southern border and the government has been rapidly expelling them from the country under a public health order instituted by former President Donald Trump and kept in place by President Joe Biden during the coronavirus pandemic.
Several members of the consortium revealed details about the new system to The Associated Press. The government is aiming to admit up to 250 asylum-seekers a day who are referred by the groups, agreeing to that system only until July31. By then, the consortium hopes the Biden administration will have lifted the public health rules, though the government has not committed to that.
So far, nearly 800 asylum-seekers have been let into the country since May3, and members of the consortium say there is already more demand than they can meet.
The groups have not been publicly identified except for the International Rescue Committee, a global relief organization. The others are London-based Save the Children; two U.S.-based organizations, HIAS and Kids in Need of Defense; and two Mexico-based organizations, Asylum Access and the Institute for Women in Migration, according to two people with direct knowledge who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not intended for public release.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it’s in “close coordination with international and non-governmental organizations in Mexico” to identify vulnerable people and that it has the final say on who gets in.
The agency described its work with the groups as fluid and said it hasn’t identified them to avoid giving them exposure.
In Nogales, Arizona, the International Rescue Committee is working with local organizations and using a program that connects to migrants via social media and smartphones to find those “facing extreme life-threatening situations,” said Raymundo Tamayo, the group’s director in Mexico.
It plans to refer up to 600 people a month to U.S. officials.
Special consideration is being given to asylum-seekers who have been in Mexico a long time, are in need of acute medical attention or who have disabilities, are members of the LGBTQ community or are non-Spanish speakers, though each case is being weighed on its unique circumstances, Tamayo said.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said advocacy groups are in “a very difficult position because they need to essentially rank the desperation” of people, but he insisted it was temporary. The government, he said, “cannot farm out the asylum system.”
The most vulnerable migrants may be too scared or uninformed to bring attention to themselves, said Margaret Cargioli, managing attorney for Immigrant Defenders Law Center, a Los Angeles-based group that got involved with the ACLU-led effort after “more organizations became aware of it.” She called the approach a “Band-Aid” while the health rules remain in place.
U.S. border authorities recorded the highest number of encounters with migrants in more than 20 years in April, though many were repeat crossers who had previously been expelled from the country. The number of children crossing the border alone also is hovering at all-time highs.