U.S. sends first Central American asylum seeker to Mexico under new policy

TIJUANA/MEXICO CITY, Jan 29 (Reuters) - The United States sent the first Central American asylum seeker back to Mexico through a crossing at the border city of Tijuana on Tuesday as part of a hardened immigration policy, an official at Mexico's national migration institute said.

The return of a Honduran man was carried out under a U.S. policy dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) by which the United States will return non-Mexican migrants who cross the U.S. southern border back to Mexico while their asylum requests are processed in U.S. immigration courts.

The United States is not expected to send any other Central American migrants to Mexico on Tuesday, said the Mexican immigration official, who asked not to be identified.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman confirmed earlier in the day that the United States would begin sending migrants back to Mexico on Tuesday.

Mexican officials had initially expected the transfers to begin on Friday.

Asylum seekers have traditionally been granted the right to stay in the United States while their cases were decided by an immigration judge, but a backlog of more than 800,000 cases means the process can take years.

Related: Reunited family fights for asylum:

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Reunited family fights for asylum
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, spends the afternoon at the mall with mother Maria Marroquin Perdomo and father Edward Montes Lopez in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo waits for toenail polish to dry after getting a pedicure at a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo said her toes were in bad shape following the arduous journey from Honduras to the Mexico-U.S. border and her time spent in detention. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, and his parents Edward Montes Lopez and Maria Marroquin Perdomo return to the apartment Montes Lopez shares with other family members in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. The apartment was overcrowded when Montes Marroquin and Marroquin Perdomo arrived, so Montes Lopez began talking of finding an apartment for the three of them. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo gets a pedicure at a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo said her toes were in bad shape following the arduous journey from Honduras to the Mexico-U.S. border and her time spent in detention. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, sits with his father Edward Montes Lopez and mother Maria Marroquin Perdomo while video-chatting with family back in Honduras on their first night together in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai look for their gate before flying to New Orleans, Louisiana, at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, U.S., July 15, 2018. It was the first time either had ever been on an airplane. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, meets his father, Edward Montes Lopez, for the first time at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 15, 2018. Montes Lopez hadn't seen his son since he was an infant. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, helps his mother Maria Marroquin Perdomo set up her new cell phone while at a mall in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, arrives at La Posada Providencia shelter shortly after being reunified with his mother in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, runs toward his father, Edward Montes Lopez, as he meets him for the first time at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 15, 2018. Montes Lopez hadn't seen his son since he was an infant. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai travel to New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., from Harlingen, Texas, U.S., July 15, 2018. It was the first time either had ever been on an airplane. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and 11-year-old son Abisai sit at their gate before flying to New Orleans, Louisiana, at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas, U.S., July 15, 2018. It was the first time either had ever been on an airplane. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, plays after arriving at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. The boy was reunified with his mother hours earlier. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Abisai Montes Marroquin, 11, looks at messages and drawings made for him by his mother and the fellow mothers she befriended while the women were detained at the Port Isabel detention center, before bed at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. The boy was reunified with his mother hours earlier. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
After being reunified with her 11-year-old son, Maria Marroquin Perdomo cries during a phone call with the boy's father in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai arrive at La Posada Providencia shelter with the help of immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin, in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai stop at a gas station for a snack after departing the Casa Padre facility, where the two were reunified, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo's attorney drove the pair from the gas station to La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., to spend their first night together. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai drive away from the Casa Padre facility in the backseat of her attorney's truck minutes after mother and son were reunified, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Abisai was held at Casa Padre while his mother was detained at the Port Isabel detention facility. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Maria Marroquin Perdomo reacts to the news that her detained son had been cleared for release, at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Marroquin Perdomo headed to the facility holding him minutes later with her attorney for their reunification. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo passes the time before a hopeful reunification with her detained son while staying at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo is driven by a local volunteer from the Port Isabel detention center near Los Fresnos, Texas, U.S., to La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., July 13, 2018. She is clutching release paperwork including information regarding the location of her detained son. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo and her 11-year-old son Abisai drive away from the Casa Padre facility in the backseat of her attorney's truck minutes after mother and son were reunified in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., July 14, 2018. Abisai was held at Casa Padre while his mother was detained at the Port Isabel detention facility. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
Maria Marroquin Perdomo gets settled with the help of Sister Margaret Mertens at La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, U.S., shortly after her release from the Port Isabel detention center, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott 
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U.S. authorities are expected to send as many as 20 people per day through the Mexican border city of Tijuana and gradually start sending people back through the other legal ports of entry, Mexico's foreign ministry said on Friday.

The U.S. policy is aimed at curbing the increasing number of families arriving mostly from Central America to request asylum who say they fear returning home because of threats of violence there. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump says many of the claims are not valid.

Mexico has said it will accept the return of certain people who have a date to appear in a U.S. court, but will reject those who have health problems, are unaccompanied minors or would be in danger in Mexican territory.

Immigration advocates fear Mexico is not safe for migrants, who are regularly kidnapped by criminal gangs and smugglers. They have also raised concerns that applicants sent back to Mexico will not have access to proper legal counsel in U.S. courts.

(Reporting by Julia Love in Tijuana, Yeganeh Torbati in New York and Lizbeth Diaz and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Writing by Delphine Schrank and Anthony Esposito; editing by Grant McCool)

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