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Migrants returned to Mexico have hearings postponed — but still have to show up at the border to get a new date

The COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating immigration courts' million-case backlog.

On Wednesday, the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which runs the Justice Department's removal proceedings, announced it was pushing off asylum hearings for migrants who'd been returned to Mexico upon reaching the southern border due to the coronavirus pandemic. But even though hearings through May 1 have been postponed, migrants forced back to Mexico will still have to return to the border to get a piece of paper listing their rescheduled hearing date.

Under the U.S. Migration Policy Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, any asylum seekers who reach the southern border must remain in Mexico as they await hearings. The border towns and makeshift camps where they've gathered have been ripe with reports of kidnappings and violence, not to mention close conditions that make it easy to spread the coronavirus. Some people have tried to settle away from those packed camps, but have ended up on buses that take them thousands of miles from the border. It's difficult enough for those migrants to make their way back for hearings, and with Wednesday's announcement, they'll have to do so at least twice.

The Justice Department previously warned that a delay or shutdown in hearings could cause a "rush" to the border after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked MPP in early March but issued a stay on the program until the Supreme Court could hear it; the court eventually allowed the policy to continue.