President Joe Biden says he wants to end the Stay in Mexico policy, a Trump-era program that has forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait for decisions on their Mexico immigration cases for decades. month.
In a seemingly contradictory move, Biden is first restoring and expanding it. The return of the program was ordered by the courts. Expanding the policy, however, was a choice made by the Biden administration.
Thursday, the United States reached an agreement with the Mexican government to relaunch the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Under Trump, the policy allowed 70,000 migrants seeking to enter the United States to be sent to Mexican border towns where many lived in squalid encampments or overcrowded shelters and were targeted by criminal gangs.
Biden shut down the MPP shortly after taking office, fulfilling a campaign promise. But his administration argued it had no choice but to reinstate the program from Monday. A federal court in Texas ordered the administration to continue to force migrants to wait in Mexico until it expands its ability to detain migrants in the United States. The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Texas and Missouri; the Supreme Court has refused to block this decision of the lower court.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, however, maintained that the administration was committed to ending the program eventually.
“The MPP had endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, diverted resources and personnel from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration,” he wrote in a statement. October Memo. “The MPP not only undermines the administration’s ability to implement essential and fundamental changes to the immigration system, it fails to provide the fair process and humanitarian protections that individuals deserve under the law.”
But by reimplementing the program in the meantime with relatively few changes, the Biden administration has disappointed some Democratsmigrant defenders and even asylum officers responsible for screening people subject to the program. They argued that the program is itself illegal and evades the United States’ obligation under federal and international law not to return migrants at risk.
Immigration advocates are also angered that Biden isn’t just reinstating the MPP; it widens its scale. Now all other citizens of Western Hemisphere countries can be removed under the program, which previously only covered Spanish speakers.
The administration isn’t doing it because the court ordered it — it wasn’t part of the court’s instructions — and it didn’t explain why it’s expanding the program and didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday. . This casts doubt on its commitment to ensuring the safety of migrants who will suffer if the MPP remains in place.
“We categorically reject claims by the Biden administration that it can administer the Stay in Mexico program in a more humane way,” said Jorge Loweree, director of policy at the American Immigration Council. in a report. “The longer the administration delays ending this illegal and cruel policy, the more people will suffer.”
Biden’s changes to the program aren’t enough
The dangers associated with returning migrants to Mexico are well documented. In February 2021, a report by Human Rights First identified over 1,500 murders, kidnappings, rapes, torture and other attacks on migrants returned to Mexico under the MPP. And one investigation of the 20,000 asylum seekers trapped at the US-Mexico border conducted by the legal aid group Al Otro Lado revealed that 83% had been subjected to threats or physical violence, including 89% of asylum seekers LGBTQ.
Despite this, and despite To have permission from the lower court to do things differently, Biden doesn’t change much about how the MPP has been handled. And his administration’s policy still leaves decisions on exemptions up to individual border agents.
The administration says it will process all cases in the program within six months of a migrant returning to Mexico. The Trump administration has promised to eliminate cases in the same delaybut has largely failed to meet it in practice due to a lack of prioritization and backlogs in immigration courts, Biden administration limitations face again.
Biden also outlined exemptions to the program similar to those used by the Trump administration, including for people with disabilities and the elderly. Since border agents will be tasked with identifying these people, some may slip through the cracks.
The United States said it would also work with the Mexican government to provide “safe and secure” shelters for those enrolled in the program. However, shelter managers along the border say they are already overwhelmed, and local officials in Mexico have yet to be approached by the Biden administration about funding to expand capacity. The two countries also promised to provide safe transportation to and from US ports of entry, as well as work permits, health care and other services in Mexico.
Perhaps more importantly, border officials will now proactively interview migrants to determine if they have a “reasonable possibility” of facing danger in Mexico before turning them back under the program. It will be up to these officers to refer migrants who express a fear of harm if they are returned to Mexico to an asylum officer for further consideration.
Migrants will be able to consult a lawyer before these interviews, although few will benefit from this part of the agreement. Previously only about 18 percent of MPP subjects who showed up for their hearings were able to pay for an attorney or had access to free legal advice, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which collects and analyzes data on the courts of American immigration.
But even with these changes, the administration’s own asylum officers to say there is no way to ensure the safety of migrants under the “irretrievably flawed” program.
“While the administration has taken steps intended to mitigate some of the more egregious elements of the previous iteration of MPP, a program that forces asylum seekers to stay in one of the most dangerous regions in the world for that their cases are pending in U.S. immigration courts cannot guarantee their protection from persecution and torture as required by U.S. law,” the asylum workers’ union tasked with screening people subject to the MPP written in a letter Thursday.
Biden was not forced to expand the MPP
The Biden administration has argued that its hands are tied by the courts when it comes to the MPP. Immigrant advocates, however, say the administration should have moved more quickly to build its case against the program, and that it has no legal obligation to expand it.
The Biden administration first issued a memo ending the MPP in June. The Texas court found that the memo did not provide sufficient support for the Aug. 13 ruling. Yet it wasn’t until October 29 that Mayorkas finally released another memo outlining the administration’s reasoning in a way that might have bolstered his case. was released in July.
Karen Tumlin, immigration litigator and director and founder of the Justice Action Center, said the Biden administration bears the blame for dragging its feet on the release of the second memo — what she says is the “thing that was most likely to end the court order. ”
“That delay is the root of the situation we find ourselves in today,” she said.
There is also nothing in the court order that suggests the Biden administration had to expand the MPP. With the exception of Brazilians, non-Spanish speakers were not previously subject to the programin part because they would have difficulty finding work in Mexico and would have no realistic way to support themselves while pursuing their asylum claims in the United States.
Now, all citizens of countries in the Western Hemisphere are subject to the MPP, unless they qualify for an exemption. This includes Haitians, who have faces racial discrimination and summer targets violent crime in Mexico – and not just at the hands of gangs. According to the Al Otro Lado survey, 20% of Haitian asylum seekers have been victims of physical violence or extortion by Mexican law enforcement.
The Biden administration noted in its re-enforcement plan that the Mexican government may reduce the categories of migrants subject to the MPP or limit the number of non-Spanish speakers in the program in the future. As it stands, however, the program could cover more migrants than it did under Trump.
“The court did not order the Biden administration to expand Stay in Mexico to new populations,” said Ursela Ojeda, senior policy adviser for migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, in a press call. “They go way beyond the good faith compliance that is required of them. [by the court] to make this policy crueler and more deadly.