U.S. to admit asylum seekers from hard-hit camp at Texas border

·2-min read
Asylum seekers sit inside a tent at a migrant encampment in Matamoros

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States this week will begin processing people held in the Matamoros migrant camp at the Texas border for entry into the country after the area was hit hard by severe weather, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday.

The camp, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, is home to hundreds of migrants, most from Central America, hoping to be granted refuge across the border. They have endured sub-zero temperatures over the last week while living in flimsy tents.

"The migrant camp in Matamoros has recently been hard hit by extreme weather in northern Mexico. As President Biden continues to rebuild the nation's border management in a way that reflects America's values, addressing humanitarian needs in Matamoros has become a priority," the department said in a statement.

It said new arrivals at the camp will not gain entry into the United States through this limited process.

The statement came after DHS abruptly canceled plans last Monday to bring asylum seekers into Texas at two ports of entry.

Some camp residents have lived there for more than a year under former President Donald Trump's controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings.

The Biden administration has said a new process will gradually begin to allow thousands of MPP asylum seekers to await courts’ decisions within the United States.

U.N. agencies will begin preparing camp residents for possible entry on Wednesday, conducing in-person registration of Matamoros' estimated 750 residents, the U.N. Refugee Agency said in a statement. An initial group could be allowed to enter the United States this week, pending approval by U.S. authorities, it said.

There will be strict enforcement of health and safety protocols including testing for COVID-19, DHS said.

Its statement also contained a warning, as the Biden administration tries to head off a surge of migrants flocking to the border after a crackdown on immigration under Trump.

"Individuals should not believe smugglers or others claiming the border is now open. The administration will enforce existing immigration laws," it said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Lambert)