Hispanic lawmakers call for answers on policy of keeping asylum-seekers in Mexico

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is asking Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump faces mounting challenges to emergency declaration 2,000 asylum seekers return home, decide to stay in Mexico: report Trump taps FEMA official to lead agency MORE to explain the agency's new policy of keeping Central American asylum seekers in Mexico while their claims are processed.

In a letter obtained by The Hill on Thursday, the CHC asked Nielsen for further details on the new Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), as the plan is officially known.

"While a number of reports from both the United States’ Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Mexican government have given more guidance about this new policy, we remain concerned on the implementation and exercise of the MPP," wrote the legislators.

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DHS instituted MPP late last month, arguing that keeping asylum applicants in Mexico "will help restore a safe and orderly immigration process, decrease the number of those taking advantage of the immigration system, and the ability of smugglers and traffickers to prey on vulnerable populations, and reduce threats to life, national security, and public safety, while ensuring that vulnerable populations receive the protections they need."

But the proposal has raised questions on issues ranging from the safety of prospective asylees in Mexico to the availability of U.S. legal counsel on the southern side of the border.

In a series of questions, the CHC requests information on how asylum proceedings will be altered to serve a population outside the United States, whether Mexico has made any assurances regarding the migrants' safety, and the number of asylum seekers who will be processed daily at ports of entry.

The MPP project has raised questions from several stakeholder organizations, many of which have argued the idea is either illegal or unworkable.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Immigration Council and Catholic Immigration Network sent a similar letter to Nielsen Wednesday saying "significant harm" would come to asylum seekers kept in Mexico.

The 30-page document includes several first-hand accounts of Central American migrants who encountered danger in some form while in Mexico.

Before MPP, asylum seekers were allowed in the United States and often released on their own recognizance while their petitions were reviewed.

The Trump administration has derided that practice as "catch and release," and a "loophole" that allows immigrants to live and work illegally in the United States.