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Asylum Hearings Rescheduled As Judges Prioritize ‘Remain-In-Mexico’ Program

A man who only gave his first name as Ariel, of Honduras, center in blue shir...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A man who only gave his first name as Ariel, of Honduras, center in blue shirt, crosses into the United States to begin his asylum case with others after being returned to Mexico in Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, March 19, 2019.

Asylum-seekers in San Diego often have to wait years for a final hearing in front of an immigration judge.

This week, the government abruptly rescheduled many of those cases, as it began to prioritize the cases of asylum-seekers they’ve sent back to Mexico under the “Remain in Mexico” program.

“Many people have received notices that within the next two-to-three weeks, what they thought was going to be an immigration court appearance was continued as much as a year into the future,” said Andrew Nietor, an immigration lawyer who had his client’s cases rescheduled.

“I had two cases that were scheduled for September, and I received notice that those were continued to June of 2020. Some of my colleagues received notices that some of their cases were continued as far out as 2021.”

RELATED: First Asylee Released Into US Under ‘Remain In Mexico’ Policy

When cases get delayed, asylum-seekers can see their carefully constructed cases begin to fall apart, says Nietor.

“For the most part they need to explain, through their testimony, why they’re entitled to asylum, why their claim is valid. And the more time that elapses the harder it is for them to remember the details,” Nietor told KPBS.

Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Above: 401 W. A Street in downtown San Diego, where immigration hearings are held, June 21, 2019.

A spokesperson for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the nation’s immigration courts, told KPBS that cases stemming from the "Remain in Mexico" program, which is also known as Migrant Protection Protocols, are “for prioritization purposes, treated as though they are detained. So some non-detained cases are being reset to facilitate hearing the MPP cases."

Nietor says another reason the cases are being prioritized is that hey have a far lower rate of success than asylum-seekers currently in the U'S. Earlier this month, a Honduran man became the first person to ever win an asylum case after being placed in the “Remain in Mexico” program. As of last week, the Trump administration had sent back to Mexico nearly 32,000 asylum-seekers who now have to return to the U.S. for their court hearings.

“Think of this, there are hundreds if not thousands of individuals who have now been through the Remain in Mexico, MPP. And there’s been one person granted asylum. And it was so noteworthy that it made the news,” said Nietor.

With court calendars being filled by asylum-seekers being sent back to Mexico, Nietor is not confident that other cases won’t just end up being delayed indefinitely, leaving his clients without clarity on their legal status.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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