(Mani Albrecht/CBP)

Nielsen: New ‘Catch and Return’ Rule in Effect to Make Asylum-Seekers Wait in Mexico

Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security will return individuals entering the U.S. from Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings. The migrants will be presented with a “notice to appear” for an immigration court hearing.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made the announcement in her opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning. She said that the U.S. will immediately invoke Section  235(b)(2)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, meaning that anyone entering the U.S. from Mexico illegally or without proper documentation may be returned to Mexico until their immigration court date.

“Today we are announcing historic measures to bring the illegal immigration crisis under control,” Nielsen said. “We will confront this crisis head-on, uphold the rule of law, and strengthen our humanitarian commitments. Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates. Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico. In doing so, we will reduce illegal migration by removing one of the key incentives that encourages people from taking the dangerous journey to the United States in the first place. This will also allow us to focus more attention on those who are actually fleeing persecution.”

Read Nielsen’s full opening statement here

The announcement comes as the Senate and House have failed to come to a compromise on funding President Trump’s $5 billion request for a border wall.

Nielsen said that Mexico has chosen to “implement essential measures on their side of the border,” and that migrants can wait in Mexico for the U.S. to make a judgment on their applications for entry into the country.

DHS cited a backlog of  786,000 pending immigration-related cases, and a 2,000 percent increase over the past five years in the number of aliens entering the country claiming a credible fear from their home countries as a means to gaining asylum. The department says that nine out of 10 asylum claims are not granted by an immigration judge, but that the backlog prevents cases from being heard for years.

Ranking Member Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming Judiciary Committee chairman when Congress reconvenes under Democratic control next month, said that the Trump administration and DHS, under Nielsen’s leadership, “launched a ruthless attack against immigrants of all stripes,” and pledged to fairly and firmly investigate the department. Nadler asked Nielsen if the rule applies to all asylum-seekers, even those with credible claims.

“What you’re really saying is that anyone who claims for asylum, legitimately or not, should expect to be detained for years?” Nadler asked.

Nielsen responded that the detention process does not take years, and that “the fastest way to get them through the system is through detention.”

“It’s 40 days through detention,” she said. “It’s 1,300 days without detention.”

Multimedia journalist James Cullum is Managing Editor of Homeland Security Today's Federal Pages. He has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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