PHOENIX - Around 25,000 asylum seekers who were ordered under former president Donald Trump to wait in Mexico while U.S. immigration courts processed their requests will now be allowed to cross the border into America to continue their immigration court proceedings.
For the past year, most of them have been living in shelters in Mexico because of a Trump administration policy.
The Biden administration plans to start slowly, using only a couple of border crossings and processing a few hundred people each day.
The Department of Homeland Security says this move only applies to those who have "active cases pending in the 'Remain in Mexico' program," which is under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).
Officials say individuals should not rush to the border at once, but wait until they have registered online and are told when and where to go.
"The borders are not open, and this is just the first phase in the administration's work to reopen access to an orderly asylum process," White House officials said.
DHS suspended the MPP policy for new arrivals on Biden's first day in office. Since then, some asylum-seekers picked up at the border have been released in the U.S. with notices to appear in court.
The Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, which provides humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees, estimate that about 200-400 asylum seekers are in the Nogales area alone.
"For the past 12, 13 months, it has been a really bleak situation to see people returned to a place that they absolutely fear, and it is just such a sense of hope and relief that something concrete now is happening," said Sara Ritchie with the Kino Border Initiative.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey criticized Biden's latest plans, tweeting that "Arizona communities, non-profits and local law enforcement need to be included in changes to federal border policy."
The governor sent a letter to the Dept. of Homeland Security outlining his concerns, referencing the dangers this could bring to the state and local law enforcement while also emphasizing how it could potentially impact coronavirus cases.
Over the last year, many of the "Remain in Mexico" court hearings have been postponed because of the pandemic.
The Dept. of Homeland Security says people will be tested for COVID-19 and won't be allowed to enter the U.S. if they are infected.