The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a decision to continue the Trump administration’s ‘stay in Mexico’ policy, which forces people to wait in Mexico while seeking asylum in the United States
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
A US immigration policy upheld by the Supreme Court last night forced a big ruling in Mexico today regarding migrant protection protocols. It is also known as the “Stay in Mexico” policy. US procedure forces asylum seekers to live in Mexico – and immigration activists say, in unsafe conditions – while awaiting a hearing in US court Journalist James Frederick joins us from Mexico City to tell more.
Welcome back, James.
JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: I want to start with an overview of how the Stay in Mexico policy works.
FREDRICK: So, as you mentioned, it was a Trump-era policy, but Biden ended it almost immediately after his inauguration. It affected around 71,000 people, mostly from Central America or Cuba. Basically, a person would show up at the US-Mexico border and say, I’m in danger. I want to apply for asylum. They would be taken to the United States, processed, then returned and sent back to Mexico with a hearing date in US court. And they would have to wait there, outside the United States, until their asylum procedure was completed, which could take years. These people, again, were not Mexicans and most of them did not know the country at all. In theory, the Mexican government provided these people with humanitarian support. But in reality, that didn’t happen, so thousands of people ended up living in really terrible makeshift camps along the border.
CORNISH: What was the policy trying to accomplish?
FREDRICK: The Trump administration has been very clear about this. They wanted to deter people from applying for asylum, which would make the asylum process much more difficult, much more difficult. There is no evidence that the policy has stopped people from seeking asylum, but there is plenty of evidence that it has made things very, very bad for asylum seekers. The advocacy group Human Rights First has documented more than 1,500 cases of abduction, rape and murder of people under this program.
Here’s how Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s Immigrant Rights Project, described the situation for asylum seekers under that program.
OMAR JADWAT: They came to the United States. They asked to be protected from the persecution. And we put them in danger, and they suffered as a result.
CORNISH: Harm’s way. I mean, how and where does the Mexican government fit into this US policy?
FREDRICK: Well, with the Supreme Court decision, it’s American policy, and that’s all the Supreme Court was talking about – it was American law. But if the United States is to return asylum seekers to Mexico, Mexico must accept that. They can say no. So here’s Jadwat from the ACLU again.
JADWAT: If Mexico says no, the program cannot restart. You know, it’s as simple as that. The US government is required to make a good faith effort.
FREDRICK: So what he’s referring to at the end is the Supreme Court telling the Biden administration that they need to make a good faith effort to restart this program. So in theory they could ask Mexico to restart it. Mexico could say no. And the Biden administration can look to the Supreme Court and say, we’ve tried, but it’s not possible because of Mexico. So, in theory, politics could die there.
CORNISH: So what have you learned from what the Mexican government has said about this so far?
FREDRICK: The Mexican government has been very tight-lipped about it so far. They acknowledged that they were aware of the decision. They have been in contact with their American counterparts, but said they have not yet made a decision. It is important to mention that the Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, accepted this program in 2019. And in general, he really followed the American immigration policy, even under President Trump. It has even deployed military forces to detain migrants here. Mexico is therefore generally not hostile to US immigration policies. So if Mexico eventually gives the green light to this and the program restarts, a very bad humanitarian situation on the border right now could get even worse. There are currently migrant camps on the border, very terrible conditions right now because of a different Trump-era policy that Biden has kept in place. And, you know, I’ve seen some of these camps. They were very bad. So if this policy comes back, a bad humanitarian situation could get worse.
CORNISH: This is journalist James Frederick from Mexico City.
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