U.S. to expand online asylum registration amid 'unprecedented' border arrivals

WASHINGTON, Aug 12 (Reuters) - The United States will expand an online asylum registration system in the hopes migrants will apply remotely amid "unprecedented" border arrivals, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Thursday.

The online system allows people to register to apply for asylum from phones or computers, an option that could reduce the number of migrants trekking to the U.S.-Mexico border but has yet to be tested broadly.

U.S. President Joe Biden, a Democrat who took office nearly seven months ago, vowed to reverse many of the restrictive immigration policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump. But Biden's administration has struggled to deal with an increase in border arrests, which reached 20-year highs in recent months.

The online asylum registration system was used earlier this year to process thousands of migrants who had been forced to wait in Mexico, often in squalid or dangerous conditions, under a Trump program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

Mayorkas, speaking at a news conference in south Texas, did not provide details about which asylum seekers would be eligible to use the online system, but said further asylum changes would be announced in the coming days.

U.S. border agents made nearly 200,000 arrests for illegal entry at the southern border in July, the highest monthly total since March 2000. Border arrests typically taper off in the hotter summer months, but the July tally represents a 12 percent increase over June.

"We are encountering an unprecedented number of migrants in between the ports of entry at our southern border," Mayorkas said.

Earlier in the day, a group of elected officials in south Texas who met with Mayorkas criticized Biden's handling of the border, saying incoming migrants were straining their communities during the pandemic.

"Whatever system they’re using is broken," Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, a Democrat said of Biden's approach. "It needs fixing."

Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Aurora Ellis

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