To comply with a federal court order, U.S. officials this week expanded a Trump-era program that forces migrants to wait for their asylum hearings in Mexico in the busiest border area for illegal crossings, a the Department of Homeland Security said Friday.
the said Policy “Remain in Mexico” has been extended to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which has historically saw the highest number of migrant arrests along the southern border on Jan. 19, according to a DHS spokesperson.
Under the latest expansion, migrants enrolled in the program will be processed in Brownsville, Texas, and returned to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a region of Mexico. the US State Department advises Americans not to visit due to cartel violence and risk of kidnapping.
The DHS spokesperson said asylum seekers returned from the Rio Grande Valley to Matamoros will then have “the option of residing in Monterrey,” a Mexican city further inland, while awaiting their hearings before the US Immigration Court. The State Department is helping the Mexican government provide migrants with transportation, COVID-19 testing and shelter, DHS added.
In a statement Friday, the DHS spokesperson noted that the Biden administration had sought to overturn the “Remain in Mexico” rules, issuing two termination notices. However, a federal appeals court last month upheld a judge’s ruling that the first attempted firing was unlawful and ordered a relaunch of the Trump-era policy.
“DHS continues to fight in court, including a pending Supreme Court challenge,” the DHS spokesperson said. “In the meantime, DHS is committed to complying with the court-ordered reapplication of the MPP in the most humane manner possible.”
Prior to this week’s expansion, the court-ordered implementation of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, had been limited to El Paso and San Diego.
As of Friday, 337 migrants had been sent back to Mexico via these cities to await their hearing outside the United States, according to a spokesperson for the United Nations migration agency, which transports asylum seekers to local shelters. .
So far, the Biden administration has applied the policy to migrants from countries beyond the northern triangle of Central America. More than 60% of asylum seekers registered in the program in December came from Nicaragua, 22% from Venezuela and 12% from Cuba, a recent DHS report shows. The others came from Colombia and Ecuador.
Under the Trump administration, MPP policy was used to send 70,000 Latino migrants back to Mexico, where many ended up in makeshift encampments and crime-ridden towns. Hundreds of migrants said they were kidnapped, extorted or assaulted while waiting in Mexico, according to Human Rights First, a US-based group.
Fewer than 800 migrants enrolled in ‘Remain in Mexico’ protocols have been granted U.S. refuge, while tens of thousands have lost their cases or been deported for missing court dates, government analysis finds Data shows.
President Biden strongly condemned the policy on the 2020 election campaign, and he suspended it the day he took office. In June 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas officially ended the program.
But Republican officials in Texas and Missouri convinced a federal judge in August 2021 to rule against firing Mayorkas and order the Biden administration to resuscitate the protocols.
Mayorkas issued a second termination note in late October, denouncing the “unjustifiable human costs” of the border policy. But that won’t take effect until the August court order is lifted. In addition to appealing the ruling, the Biden administration also last month asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the case.
The Biden administration has made significant changes to its version of the “Stay in Mexico” program, which began in early December. Unlike the Trump administration, it required US border officials to ask migrants if they feared harm in Mexico before sending them there.
The administration also offered coronavirus vaccinations to applicants and expanded the categories of asylum seekers deemed too vulnerable to be sent back to Mexico, including the elderly, those with medical conditions and members of the LGBT community.
Under current rules, migrants from any Western Hemisphere country other than Mexico can be enrolled in MPP protocols. Under the Trump administration, migrants from Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil could be sent back to Mexico.
A DHS report published last week shows that more than 90% of migrants enrolled in the program last month expressed fear of being persecuted or tortured in Mexico. Only 12% were interviewed by US asylum officers.
While the Biden administration has pledged to expand asylum seekers’ access to lawyers, the DHS report says only 11 asylum seekers had legal representation when interviewed with US officials in December.
In an interview this week, Mayorkas said that although the US asylum system has been broken for years, it “was dismantled in its entirety under the previous administration.” He promised to fix it with a long-awaited rule that aims to speed up the processing of humanitarian protection requests by migrants.
“I would respectfully say that we’re building it back better, because this asylum rule is a definite improvement,” Mayorkas told CBS News.