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DHS: Migrants who cross illegally must wait out asylum process in Mexico

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday asylum seekers entering the United States illegally will be returned to Mexico for immigration processing.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the new policy as a "historic action" to combat the "illegal immigration crisis."

The department is invoking emergency powers under the Immigration and Nationality Act to require asylum seekers who enter the country "illegally or without proper documentation" to return to Mexico and wait until their claims are processed.

Nielsen said in her announcement the goal is to prevent "catch and release," in which immigrants "disappear" into the United States.

"'Catch and release' will be replaced with 'catch and return,'" Nielsen said. "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."

She added that steps would be taken to ensure the new policy falls in line with "international legal obligations" and "humanitarian commitments."

"We have notified the Mexican government of our intended actions," she said. "In response, Mexico has made an independent determination that they will commit to implement essential measures on their side of the border. We expect affected migrants will receive humanitarian visas to stay on Mexican soil, the ability to apply for work, and other protections while they await a U.S. legal determination."

According to the DHS, the rate of credible fear claims, the first step to asylum, which allow immigrants to stay in the country while their claims are pending, has increased "at an alarming rate" over the last five years and resulted in a backlog of more than 786,000 pending cases.

In a statement, Mexico's foreign ministry said Thursday it "will authorize, for humanitarian reasons and temporarily, the entry of certain foreign persons from the United States who have entered the country through a port of entry or who have been apprehended between ports of entry, have been interviewed by the authorities of migratory control of that country, and have received a summons to appear before an immigration judge."

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