Migrants attempting to cross into the United States from Mexico are then detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the border August 16, 2021 in San Luis, Arizona. (Photo by Nick Ut/Getty Images)
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MEXICO CITY — Faced with the largest number of migrants crossing the southwestern United States border in 21 years, senior Biden administration officials are adopting some of former President Donald Trump’s toughest policies and considering adopting others, including one that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases were decided.
The controversial measures have raised alarm among immigration advocates, who accuse the administration of turning its back on asylum seekers and pushing inhumane policies in a desperate effort to stop the flow of migrants reaching the US border. .
President Joe Biden has maintained a Trump-era pandemic rule that allows the United States to summarily deport asylum seekers to Mexico, without giving them the chance to seek protection. It went further this month, when the United States began airlifting migrants apprehended at the border to southern Mexico – where they are loaded onto buses and dumped in Guatemala – with the aim of relocating them. prevent them from returning to the United States. Many are young children.
In the biggest about-face, top US officials have privately discussed reviving the Trump-era policy, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs), colloquially known as “Remain in Mexico,” to manage the number of migrants arriving at the border, according to three sources with knowledge of the discussions. Under this policy, the United States sent more than 70,000 asylum seekers from 2019 to 2021 to some of Mexico’s most dangerous border towns to wait for their immigration cases to be decided.
Biden was highly critical of politics as a candidate and suspended it on his first day in office. But as apprehensions at the border grew, senior White House officials floated the idea of bringing the program back, and it was mooted for weeks among a small circle of government officials. Discussions have centered on whether there could be a softer version of the policy – a notion that immigration advocates denounce as ridiculous.
“The MPP has been discussed at a very high level within the US government,” said a source with direct knowledge of the discussions.
Senior officials considered reviving the MPP even before a federal judge’s ruling last week ordering its immediate reapplication, the sources said. The judge ruled that Biden failed to follow due process in ending the program. The Biden administration appealed the decision to the conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, arguing that reinstating the policy is impossible to execute in such a short time.
But in appealing the judge’s decision, the administration also hinted at what a “softer” MPP might look like: the same legal framework but with reliable food and shelter for migrants in the program, monitoring and improved communication with them, and better access to lawyers. who can help them prepare their applications.
“To reinstate a program using the Secretary’s return authority responsibly, the department should address these concerns,” wrote David Shahoulian, a senior immigration official with the Department of Homeland Security, in a deposition to the Court. court of appeal.
A White House spokesperson told VICE World News that she does not comment on “interagency deliberations.”
“As we’ve said before, the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program was an ineffective policy that led to a humanitarian disaster on Mexico’s northern border and asylum seekers living in poor conditions. sordid, dangerous and inhuman,” the spokesperson said. “The MPP program remains terminated as we work around the clock to build from the flawed system we inherited.”
“The MPP program remains terminated as we work around the clock to build from the flawed system we inherited.”
One of Trump’s signature immigration policies, the MPP almost single-handedly halted the wave of migrants arriving at the border. He also turned migrants into virtual sitting ducks for organized crime. Deported to cartel-dominated towns to await court hearings, thousands have been assaulted, raped, kidnapped and extorted, including by Mexican law enforcement officers, according to investigations by Human Rights First and other groups. Many returned home before their cases were decided. Of those who remained, less than 2% won their case.
The Department of Homeland Security officially ended Remain in Mexico in June. The program had produced “mixed results,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in a note, but it failed to reduce the huge backlog of asylum applications and forced some migrants to drop their claims due to the dangerous conditions they faced in Mexico.
Even so, support for a reformed version of Stay in Mexico gained ground among Biden advisers as July border apprehensions soared, topping 200,000 for the first time since March 2000. The fact that the policy being even under consideration speaks to the political pressures Biden faces as he struggles to assert control of the border. Already, Republicans have begun to exploit the influx of border migrants to their advantage ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
Of the 110,000 single adult migrants arrested in July, most were deported to Mexico under the public health emergency rule known as Title 42. But most families were allowed to stay. Nearly 88% of the 83,000 families were processed and released to the United States to pursue their asylum claims. Immigration officials also encountered 19,000 unaccompanied children, an unprecedented monthly record. They too are allowed to stay in the United States
Worryingly for Biden, the peak occurs during the summer months, when migration flows have historically declined due to scorching temperatures that make travel more perilous.
Deteriorating conditions in countries of origin, combined with the “glimmer of American promise once again” as the US economy rebounds, are pushing the numbers up, Mayorkas said at a press conference in the south Texas last week.
Calling the situation at the border a “serious challenge”, he announced a series of new measures to deter migrants. They include deploying “additional personnel” to the US southern border, speeding up deportation procedures and airlifting Central American migrants to southern Mexico to deter them from returning.
“It is essential that prospective migrants clearly understand that they will be turned away if they enter the United States illegally and have no basis for receiving assistance under our laws,” Mayorkas said. .
Following those comments, a coalition of immigrant rights groups sent a letter to Biden criticizing his approach and opposing any future agenda that resembles the MPP. “Your administration continues to pursue cruel, illegal and ineffective policies of deterrence that extend rather than dismantle the previous administration’s approach to migration,” wrote more than 100 immigrant rights groups.
To be sure, Biden’s long-term vision is markedly different from Trump’s. While Trump has cut aid to Central American countries, Biden wants to address the root causes of migration: poverty, corruption and violence.
But the two presidents share a similar short-term approach: rely on Mexico to stem the flow of migrants, said Maureen Meyer, vice president of programs in the Washington office for Latin America.
“Biden is not talking about threatening Mexico with tariffs, like under the Trump administration. But the question is similar: what can you do to prevent so many migrants from reaching the US-Mexico border? said Meyer.
Mexico is also called upon to play a vital role in whether and how to bring back the MPP, as senior US officials have argued in court that it cannot happen without Mexico’s cooperation.
Relaunching the policy hinges on Mexico issuing immigration documents to migrants, coordinating their transportation to court dates, providing more shelter,” and additional enforcement measures. of the law to significantly curb the activities and presence of gangs, cartels, and other criminals seeking to prey on returning migrants,” Ricardo Zuñiga, special envoy for the Northern Triangle at the State Department, said written in his statement to the Court of Appeal.
Mexico’s foreign ministry avoided questioning whether it had been approached about the MPP, saying the government is “committed to protecting the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, through migratory flows orderly, safe and regular”.
For now, Mexico has agreed to accept flights from deported migrants to southern Mexico. But instead of offering them a chance to apply for legal status, Mexican authorities bus the migrants to Guatemala and drop them off in a remote town in the middle of the jungle.
The UN Refugee Agency said the flights violate international law, increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission and return asylum seekers “to the very dangers they fled”.
Mayorkas defended the flights, saying they were necessary to prevent migrants from repeatedly trying to cross into the United States. “We are running these deportation flights in the service of public health, not just for the American public but for the migrants themselves,” he told Thursday’s press conference.
“We are ready to do more if the situation warrants it.”