‘God Opened The Door’: Mystery Surrounds Us Asylum Picks

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — In a packed camp for migrant families on Mexico’s side of the busiest U.S. border crossing, Nelson Membreño has lived through a chickenpox outbreak, people’s heavy drug use and night prowlers wielding knives.

But he isn’t more vulnerable than the thousands of others waiting in the camp in Tijuana for their chance to apply for humanitarian protection in the United States. He was surprised to get a call that he and his family were picked to seek asylum.

“God opened the door,” the 30-year-old from Honduras said before a border officer shouted his name. Wheeling a large suitcase past concrete barriers topped with barbed wire, Membreño walked into the U.S. with his wife, son and stepson.

His confusion speaks to an opaque — if temporary — system the Biden administration has assembled that tasks immigration advocates with choosing which migrants get a limited number of slots to come to the U.S. to claim asylum.

President Joe Biden has kept in place a Trump administration order that quickly expels people from the country without a chance to seek asylum to prevent spread of the coronavirus. While Biden exempted children traveling alone shortly after taking office, his administration also is quietly allowing more families and single adults to avoid the ban. A Justice Department attorney said in federal court Tuesday that a new order dealing with children was coming this week, without elaborating.

There is neither a published list of advocacy groups deciding who is vulnerable enough to claim asylum nor an explanation of how they choose people, with migrants often learning by word of mouth. Final decisions on asylum rest with U.S. authorities, who don’t disclose their criteria or say how many people are admitted to the country.

An advocacy group used to send psychologists tent to tent in the Tijuana camp of about 2,000 migrants to identify families who were the most vulnerable.

By Elliot Spagat for THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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