U.S. again postpones immigration hearings for migrants in Mexico due to coronavirus

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government said on Wednesday that due to the coronavirus outbreak it had postponed court hearings for non-Mexican migrants waiting in Mexico.

The departments of Justice and Homeland Security said in a joint statement that the hearings would be postponed through May 1. The departments had previously announced a suspension through April 22.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has escalated its response to the pandemic in recent weeks as new infections have soared in hot spots across the country.

The emergency moves have included the cancellation of deportation hearings for immigrants not in detention and suspension of in-person interviews for legal immigration applicants.

The United States also closed its borders with Canada and Mexico to "non-essential" traffic last month and began a new practice of rapidly removing migrants caught trying to cross either border illegally.

Since 2019, roughly 60,000 non-Mexican migrants, many of them asylum seekers, have been sent to Mexico to await their U.S. court hearings under a Trump administration program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Thousands of those migrants have passed through makeshift encampments along the border where advocates say disease spreads easily, a situation that has alarmed some local Mexican authorities in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Tim Ahmann in Washington; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Matthew Lewis)