The Trump administration on Thursday hardened its “Remain in Mexico” policy by releasing asylum seekers that arrive at the Arizona border into the town of Nogales, Mexico, some 350 miles from Juarez, where their asylum hearings will take place.
Previously, some migrants who entered the U.S. in Arizona were transported by the government to El Paso, Texas, and from there were sent to Juarez, Mexico. Now migrants who are released in Nogales will be required to make their own journey along the border roads to appear for their asylum hearings, the Associated Press reported Friday.
U.S. authorities say the Remain in Mexico program has been an effective deterrent against illegal immigration, and the Border Patrol has reported apprehending 33,000 migrants along the southern border in November 2019, down from 114,000 in May.
“I am confident in the program’s continued success in adjudicating meritorious cases quickly and preventing fraudulent claims,” said acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf in a statement. Of 24,000 asylum applications that have been ruled on as part of the program, only 117 were granted.
The migrants returned through Arizona will have to travel through the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua adjacent to the U.S. border. This is the same area where suspected drug cartel members massacred three women and six children belonging to a Mormon American family in November.
Mexican authorities in December arrested the police chief of Janos, a city in Chihuahua close to the U.S. border, in connection with the massacre. The chief is suspected of ties to drug cartels.
“The entire northwest [of Mexico] has a reputation that all police officers work for organized crime,” Julián LeBarón, a spokesperson for one of the Mormon families whose members were killed, said in an interview. “And that’s what high school kids tell you. It’s not a mystery.”