President Joe Biden signed an executive order Tuesday that orders the Department of Homeland Security to “promptly re-examine” one of the Trump administration’s most impactful asylum policies: the Migrant Protection Protocols, or Remain in Mexico, a program that has maintained more than 60,000 vulnerable asylum seekers stranded in Mexican border towns for the better part of the past two years.
The executive order does not offer details on what to do with the tens of thousands of asylum seekers already in the MPP, nor with those who have not had a fair chance to participate in the process because of the MPP in the past. But he directs DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to consider whether to “terminate or modify” the MPP and consider rescinding the memo that set the policy in motion in January 2019. He also directs the DHS to work with other departments and “promptly consider a phased strategy for safe and orderly entry into the United States” for “individuals who have been subject to MPP for further processing of their asylum claims “.
Before signing that executive order and two other immigration executive orders on Tuesday, Biden told reporters he was aware there was “a lot of discussion” about how many executive orders he has signed since taking office. two weeks ago. “I don’t make new laws,” he said, “I eliminate bad policies.” He noted that he was addressing issues that the last president had issued by executive order or memoranda that were “counterproductive to our national security and counterproductive to who we are as a country, particularly in the area of immigration”.
The executive order on creating a comprehensive regional framework to address the causes of migration also says the administration will work with regional partners in Central America to address the root causes of migration and prevent more people from having to make the dangerous journey north and instead provide “protection and opportunity” to asylum seekers closer to home and provide refugees with access to legal pathways to the United States.
The wording of the executive order is a clear departure from the way immigration has been handled for the past four years: “Securing our borders does not require us to ignore the humanity of those who seek to cross them,” indicates the executive order. “The opposite is true.” In his first week in office, Biden ordered DHS to halt all new enrollments in the program, though that hasn’t made much difference to the current border situation: Since last March, the administration Trump had closed the border for anyone seeking asylum, citing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Biden has yet to make any changes to that order, but has used the executive order to ask the CDC and DHS to review it.
“While these announcements are welcome and transformative news, the humanitarian crisis has not changed at the border, there is an enormous amount of urgent work to fix a long-failed immigration system,” said Alida Garcia, vice -president of YOUR, an immigrant rights group. “Resolving the Trump-manufactured humanitarian crisis begins with urgently providing clarity to the children and adults of the MPP.”
The MPP was first implemented on a small scale in late January 2019 in San Diego, then expanded across the US-Mexico border. Human Rights First lawyers represented one of the first cases to appear in court in March 2019 and have seen countless cases of asylum seekers go through this process.
“We urge that any review of the MPP be conducted quickly and focused on measures to quickly transfer asylum seekers to safety in the United States,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights. First. “Every day that this illegal policy remains in effect, families, children and adult asylum seekers find themselves stranded in places where they are at risk of kidnapping, assault and other violence.”
Human Rights First has followed more than 1,300 public reports violent attacks on migrants subjected to the MPP. Immigrant rights groups have pointed out how the policy put already vulnerable migrant families in even more risky situations by sending them back to Mexican border towns to wait for months, often in makeshift camps that made them targets. criminal organizations that control the region.
Human Rights First worked on a list of recommendations for the Biden administration, and in a document released this month, they called for an end to the MPP and an early parole from the program so that migrants can live with family and friends in the United States while their asylum applications are pending. Human Rights First estimates that approximately 20,000 people are currently awaiting trial by the MPP, including Cubans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. Many of them are families with young children, and many remain at risk.
The group also called on Biden to provide redress to people who weren’t given a fair chance to apply for humanitarian protection. According to government data obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research center at Syracuse University, more than 95 percent of MPP cases that went through the immigration court system had no legal representation, making it nearly impossible to navigate a complicated process that required them to show up at the border, often in the middle of the night , so they can be bussed to the nearest US immigration court for the day.
The MPP has worn people down by dragging out the asylum process to the point that many give up. Salvadoran immigrant Juan Carlos Perla, his wife and three young sons have been in MPP since showing up at the San Diego port of entry in early 2019, and today continue to struggle to survive in Tijuana in waiting for their case to be finalized. Almost two years later, Perla is now picking up trash in Tijuana and selling what he can to feed his family for the day.
Perla and her family went to court multiple times in 2019 and have had their court dates pushed back for nearly a year now due to the pandemic. The process was so hard on them physically and emotionally that at times he wanted to give up. his asylum file. But he told me on Tuesday he was glad to see Biden considering their dire situation so soon after taking office. “There is hope to see that they will start working on something for those of us who have been sent back to Mexico,” he said. “And since we didn’t break any laws, we knocked on the door legally, we’ve been following every step for almost two years, so God willing, something good is headed our way.”
Like Perla, a Honduran I met in a shelter in Ciudad Juarez at the end of 2019 was placed in MPP with his wife and two children. He told me he was a policeman in Honduras who, after being extorted by a local gang, had to flee to the United States to seek asylum. More than a year later, he says the family’s case went nowhere, so they left Juarez and moved to Tijuana to try to claim asylum there again. He messaged me last week desperately seeking answers about what Biden would do to allow them to go through the asylum process again, this time more fairly.
But Tuesday’s executive order offered little clarity about next steps. Meanwhile, Perla and thousands of families will have to keep waiting and seeing exactly what Biden will do to deliver on his promise of a “more humane asylum system.”