Children play around tents at the Movimiento Juventud 2000 shelter for migrant asylum seekers in the United States as Title 42 and ‘Remain in Mexico’ border restrictions continue, in Tijuana, Baja California , Mexico, April 9, 2022. Credit – Patrick T. Fallon—AFP via Getty Images
Twice asylum seeker Maria showed up for her scheduled court dates in El Paso, Texas, and twice authorities sent her back to Mexico. For three months, Maria struggled to be removed from the US government’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPPs) or “Remain in Mexico” policy, an officially completed program.
Maria, 43, originally fled Colombia alone in May after receiving death threats from organized crime groups for refusing to pay extortion fees, she says. She left her elderly parents behind in hopes of reuniting with her niece in New York. But after arriving at the US-Mexico border, she was placed in MPP and returned to Mexico in June, where she now lives in a shelter for women asylum seekers in Ciudad Juárez, a city known for its crimes against migrants. and women.
“It was extremely difficult to leave [my parents] because I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to see them again,” says Maria, whom TIME identifies by her middle name because she fears for the safety of her family in Colombia, tells TIME in Spanish. “So I already came from Colombia depressed and in bad shape, and when they put me in [MPP]… Well, everything I ran away from in Colombia, I’m afraid to face it here in Mexico.
The Biden administration officially ended the controversial Trump-era policy – which forces people with open asylum cases to wait in Mexico while their cases are tried in the United States – on August 8, after a green light from the Supreme Court. But Maria and hundreds of others are still waiting in Mexico for weeks or months before they can enter the United States due to a new process devised by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that requires MPP members to wait until their next court date before they can be removed from the program. This system differs significantly from how the agency handled MPP termination in the past with a process that allowed people to leave the program without having to wait for a court appearance.
“When you say [MPP is] Plus, it’s a bit misleading because those cases are still ongoing. That’s the problem,” says John Balli, general counsel in the Laredo, Texas office of RAICES, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy and legal services organization. “I think the Biden administration, they were kind of caught off guard on how they were going to handle the end of this.”
The Biden administration first tried to end the MPP in 2021, before conservative attorneys general sued and a Texas district judge asked the administration to keep running the program while the case worked its way through the court system. During the roughly six-month period of 2021 before the Texas judge’s ruling, asylum seekers enrolled in the first iteration of the MPP could complete an online form, receive COVID-19 tests, and be removed from the program. to resume their asylum applications while living. in the United States By the end of May 2021, more than 10,000 people in MPP were removed from the program in this way, according to the Clearinghouse for access to transactional records, a research organization at Syracuse University. This time, such a process does not exist. Instead, MPP asylum seekers must wait for their next appearance in the United States before they can be removed from the program and allowed to enter the country, meaning some will wait several more weeks or months.
DHS says the new process will make the system more efficient, compared to the first liquidation in 2021. “Most of those currently enrolled in MPP have trials scheduled in the coming weeks,” a DHS spokesperson told TIME in a statement. “In contrast, when the Biden administration ended implementation of the MPP in 2021, DHS found that many people did not have court dates, resulting in a costly and slow effort to identify where people were and coordinate their entry for immigration procedures. .”
More than 71,000 people were enrolled in the MPP under the Trump administration, and under the Biden administration nearly 12,000 more people were enrolled in the MPP as of July 31, according to Data by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including Maria. As of July 19, there were 1,115 open MPP cases for people waiting in Mexico, according to DHS data. Maria’s next court date is in early September. She will show up in El Paso and plead her case before an immigration judge — and like most MPs, she will do so without the help of an attorney. She then hopes that she will eventually be removed from the MPP.
‘It’s not a game’
Even when migrants have a scheduled court date in the United States, it is far from certain that they will be removed from the MPP or granted asylum.
Since December, 88% of people who have completed their MPP cases have lost in court and been removed from the United States, according to DHS. 85% of those case losses were the result of people missing court dates, a problem immigration advocates and attorneys say is the result of people unable to travel safely from Mexico to U.S. ports of entry . Of the 254 MPP cases that have so far been decided on the merits, only 63 have resulted in an asylum claim, according to DHS. (DHS did not respond to TIME’s question about whether the cases of MPP members who missed court dates will have their cases reopened.)
“It’s stacked against them,” says Balli, RAICES’ attorney. “It’s hard enough to win and then when you’re in Monterrey, Mexico, living in a shelter, or homeless…it’s impossible to prepare well and have the necessary documents, the documents that judges want to see, and the evidence they want to see, to approve an asylum claim.
Many immigrant rights advocates and lawyers who spoke to TIME wondered why the Biden administration could speech almost 21,000 Ukrainians in April at the US-Mexico border, averaging 700 per day, but has not instituted a similar expedited process for people on MPP. The current liquidation of the MPP “feels slow, stalled, and I’m not going to lie to you, at this point, a bit cruel,” says Priscilla Orta, lead attorney for Project Corazon, a Lawyers for Good Government program. , a human rights organization that operates pro bono legal services programs. Orta says one of her teenage MPP clients told her she was sexually assaulted in Matamoros while waiting for her MPP court date. “Doesn’t DHS feel the urgency?” said Orta. “It’s not a game… What if another person is injured, assaulted, beaten, dies, while they wait?”
As Maria waits for the day when she can be removed from the MPP, she has turned to self-help books to stay motivated. She is reading Caminando Con Mi Mente (Walking With My Mind), by Colombian author Santiago Zapata, whose story of overcoming hardship and being a decisive actor in life comforts her. “I love reading so many stories,” says Maria, “but especially the ones that take me to the right place.”