Biden administration reinstates Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ asylum policy

The Biden administration reinstating a controversial Trump-era immigration policy along its southern border that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their hearings in US immigration court.

But the plan to restore the “Remain in Mexico” program, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), next month requires the approval and cooperation of the Mexican government, which has raised concerns.

The Biden administration announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to revive and reimplement by mid-November the Migrant Protection Protocols— a Trump-era policy also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program—that sent thousands of people seeking humanitarian protection to dangerous areas of Mexico to await their hearings.

The Justice Department said in a court filing that US officials are working to address the concerns raised by Mexico.

President Joe Biden, who has seen his approval ratings drop as he deals with a rash of negative headlines, has largely shunned reporters’ questions about the immigration poilcy as well as his comments on a poor September jobs report and the slowdown of the U.S. supply chain.

The announcement comes after the US said it would reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travelers vaccinated against COVID-19 in early November – ending pandemic travel restrictions put in place in March 2020.

The administration says it will submit a plan to the Mexican government for their approval that would provide increased access to legal representation, faster court hearings, and better screening for particularly vulnerable individuals, but DHS has not provided details on how to ensure these safeguards will be implemented.

The reimplementation of MPP comes following a Texas district court decision that ordered the Biden administration to “reinstate MPP in good faith.”

That decision, which is on appeal, ignored many critical and devastating facts demonstrating that MPP was a humanitarian catastrophe and failed to provide due process to migrants in the program.

Notably, the court did not require the administration to reimplement MPP by a specific date. The administration has indicated that it plans to issue a new memo that would formally terminate MPP, but it has failed to do so in the nearly two months since the decision in Texas.

Advocates have long argued the program is an unacceptable barrier to those seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Restarting any version of the Trump administration’s notorious Remain in Mexico policy will lead to immense human suffering,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First.

“Trump 2.0 policies at the border are a recipe for continued cruelty, disorder, and violations of refugee law. The Biden administration must honor its promise to terminate this horrific program.”

“There is no humane way to implement MPP,” said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council. “The Trump administration created MPP to eliminate due process for 70,000 people and forced vulnerable families to run a gauntlet of kidnappers and extortionists just to get to the courtroom door. The last two years prove that there is no protection possible through the Migrant Protection Protocols.”

“The Biden administration has had nearly two months to issue a new memo that addresses the district court’s concerns and formally terminate the MPP program for good,” said Loweree. “The fact that it has not done so and is instead moving forward with plans to restart the program in November is a betrayal of the president’s campaign promises.”

“Mexico is a sovereign nation that must make an independent decision to accept the return of individuals without status in Mexico as part of any reimplementation of MPP. Discussions with the Government of Mexico concerning when and how MPP will be reimplemented are ongoing,” said a DHS statement.

Critics say the policy forces vulnerable people to wait in tent camps set up in dangerous Mexican border communities. Pregnant women and victims of violence are among those forced to stay in such camps where the government of Mexico could not guarantee their safety and security.

“Asylum seekers face grave danger and irreversible harm every day this depraved policy remains in effect,” said Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the policy before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 11, 2020, handed a win to President Donald Trump by leaving in effect requirements that thousands of people seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico while their claims are adjudicated.

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