Thanks to a Trump-appointed federal judge, asylum seekers will once more be forced to “remain in Mexico” while they await a better life in the United States.
The White House on Thursday announced it would restart the previous administration’s punitive “Remain in Mexico” policy, one of the hallmarks of Donald Trump’s years-long efforts to penalize, restrict, and ultimately end the bulk of immigration into this country.
The policy, officially part of the “Migrant Protection Protocols” enacted by the Trump administration, requires asylum-seekers to stay on the Mexican side of the United States’ southern border while awaiting their immigration hearings. Those migrants are often forced to squat in dangerous and hazardous conditions during their forced delay in Mexico. During the Trump years, an estimated 13,000 — or around 1/3 of the total number — of the detained asylum seekers were legally considered minors.
The Biden administration had initially suspended the MPPs as one of the president’s first acts in office, but a lawsuit from Texas and Missouri led to a Trump-appointed federal judge ordering the policy to be reactivated this past August, forcing the White House to enact a measure it makes no secret of hoping to dismantle, simultaneously.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has repeatedly stated that MPP has endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration,” the government explained in a press release announcing the restart of the Remain in Mexico program. Nevertheless, the joint release from DHS, and the Departments of Justice and State, continued, “DHS will be ready to reimplement MPP once the Government of Mexico makes a final and independent decision to accept the return of individuals enrolled in the program, subject to certain humanitarian improvements.”
Among the changes implemented in this new iteration of the program, necessitated in part by Mexico as a legal requisite to resume holding the prospective asylum seekers, the government will commit to no longer separating families as part of MPP, and will also enforce COVID protocols as recommended by the CDC for migrants in the program. The administration will also add additional protections for migrants worried about their safety in Mexico.
Despite these aspirational improvements, the fact remains that MPP was designed as one of the Trump administration’s most cruel anti-immigration cudgels — so much so that even attorneys for Trump’s justice department knowingly admitted that the program placed migrants at risk for violence and kidnapping as a result. Even Local 1924, the labor union representing thousands of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency employees, came out against the policy. In a court statement filed in 2019, the group wrote that “by forcing a vulnerable population to return to a hostile territory where they are likely to face persecution, the MPP abandons our tradition of providing a safe haven to the persecuted and — violates our international and domestic legal obligations.”
As White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stressed during her briefing on Thursday, the Biden administration is restarting MPP under protest, explaining that “we are in a situation where we are abiding by a court ruling.”