By Jose Luis Gonzalez
CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) - Dozens of asylum seekers crowded the U.S. port of entry in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez on Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden began his term in office by reversing many of former President Trump's hardline immigration policies.
In its first public announcement, Biden's Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday it would end all enrollments in a controversial Trump program - known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) - that since 2019 has forced more than 65,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. court hearings, sometimes for months or even years.
The announcement did not specify what will happen to people currently in the program and only said they "should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials."
Some Cuban and Central American asylum seekers flocked to ports of entry on Thursday morning, many carrying their belongings, hoping to end their waits in dangerous border towns where migrants can face extortion, kidnapping, and rape.
"I came to the bridge to turn myself in because I'm Cuban and I want to pursue a political asylum case in the United States," said Angel Alejandro Segreo, 27.
This time, Segreo and other first-time asylum seekers were turned away because of a public health order implemented in March 2020 at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic that allows U.S. border agents to expel most border crossers for public health reasons.
Yet, even after being expelled back into Mexico, he and other asylum seekers expressed enthusiasm that their conditions would, sooner or later, improve under the new administration.
"I'm happy with the new president of the United States, but I want to see him do what he promised to do," Segreo said.
Gustavo, a Honduran asylum seeker who declined to provide his last name at the advice of his attorney, said he too was "optimistic."
He said he had already spent a year and a half in Tijuana under MPP and that he was willing to keep waiting.
"I'm going to be patient," he said. "It's been very hard to live in Tijuana all this time, but we have a goal and we're not going to give up."
Mexico's former immigration chief, Tonatiuh Guillen, said in an interview that Biden's steps on his first day in office meant "the nightmare is over."
More actions that could affect asylum seekers and refugees are due to be announced by the Biden administration on Jan. 29.
Christian Ariel Pereira, a migrant from El Salvador who traveled with his wife and 4-year-old son and has been in Ciudad Juarez four months, said he was hopeful.
"I had faith that he (Biden) was going to win and just as I had faith he was going to win, I also have faith he will fulfill everything he has promised," he said.
(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; writing by Laura Gottesdiener; editing by Mica Rosenberg and Rosalba O'Brien)