/ Modified jun 22, 2019 3:42 p.m.

'Remain In Mexico' program headed to Sonora

The program sends asylum seekers to Mexico while their immigration cases are processed.

El Paso migrant group This March 7, 2019 Customs and Border Protection photo shows a group of more than 100 migrants lined up at the border in the El Paso Sector.
Jaime Rodriguez Sr./CBP

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The United States is expanding a program that has sent thousands of asylum seekers back to Mexico while their cases are processed in immigration court. Now, Sonora, Mexico will start receiving some of those asylum seekers in the coming weeks.

This program is part of an immigration deal to avoid President Trump’s threatened tariffs.

Since last December, nearly 12,000 asylum seekers have been sent to Mexican border cities including Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez to wait for their U.S. immigration court hearings. Officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and known as "Remain In Mexico," the program has strained resources in the border cities.

Now, Mexican and Central American asylum seekers will also soon be sent to San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, across the border from Yuma. But the city isn't ready, said Mayor Santos Gonzalez.

"It could be hundreds, or it could be thousands, we don't know still," he said. "But I'd be lying if I said we would be ready for them in a week and a half."

He said immigration authorities will be visiting the city in the next few days to help the city prepare, and he hopes the state and federal government will lend a hand as the city tries to deal with the arrival of asylum seekers.

"We just don't have the budget," he said. "And it's not just us. In Yuma, they don't have the budget either."

Martin Salgado, the president of a local migrant shelter, said he's worried because there are already nearly 700 people waiting in San Luis Rio Colorado to cross the border into the United States to ask for asylum. The shelter mostly serves deported migrants and only has 85 beds. An influx of additional asylum seekers would put a lot of pressure on the city's migrant infrastructure, he said.

"I'm being told that the federal government is going to take care of things, I'd like to see that with my own eyes," he said.

For now, he's just hoping only a small number asylum seekers will be sent to San Luis Rio Colorado to wait for the U.S. immigration cases to be processed.

"But, so far, we don't really know anything," he said.

Fronteras Desk
This story is from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of Southwestern public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Fronteras Desk.
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