“Remain in Mexico” is no more
Experts say little has changed
At the Tierra de Ora shelter in Chihuahua, Mexico, 112 migrants are waiting to enter the United States—27 kids, 40 women, and 45 youth and men. They gather at a long table for dinner. The kids eat first. Migrants take turns making the meals. Sometimes it’s Mexican tacos or El Salvadorian pupusas. Once in a while, local companies donate meals. They sleep in large rooms lined with bunk beds. At the shelter, they can take a shower and get medical assistance.
They can also attend worship services where Pastor Rosalio Sosa leads them in singing and preaches on the patio or in a shelter room. “We’re Christ-centric,” Sosa says. Sosa directs Red de Albergues para Migrantes, a ministry that operates several shelters in Chihuahua.
Sometimes they host 140 migrants in a single night. Usually, the migrants stay one or two nights. But asylum-seekers waiting for their cases to be heard sometimes stay three or four months.
Since Sosa opened the Tierra de Ora shelter three years ago, he has welcomed about 7,500 migrants. Some of the migrants ended up in his shelters as a result of the Migrant Protection Protocols, a 2018 Trump administration policy known as “Remain in Mexico” that allowed immigration officials to send asylum seekers to Mexico while they waited for their court hearings. But not lately.
After a protracted legal battle, the Biden administration officially terminated the Migrant Protection Protocols. The Department of Homeland Security said it will no longer send migrants back across the border to await their asylum decisions, according to a statement made late Monday. Migrants currently enrolled in the program will be allowed to enter the U.S. on their next court date. But ending the program does little to alleviate the human toll of conflicting and haphazard border policies.
Former President Donald Trump implemented the program as the number of families seeking asylum skyrocketed. Typically, asylum-seekers with pending claims can live and work in the United States. But U.S. immigration courts are buried under an almost 1.7 million case backlog, and the process can take several years.
Nearly 70,000 migrants were sent back to Mexico to await their asylum decisions. After Trump introduced the policy, the number of illegal border crossings and people trying to enter the United States without documentation fell.
But immigration advocates decried the dangers migrants faced while waiting in overcrowded camps where they are vulnerable to being threatened, extorted, or kidnapped by organized crime groups.
Biden campaigned on ending the policy in 2020, and in early 2021, he tried to follow through. But a federal judge ordered the administration to restart the program after Texas and Missouri sued to prevent Biden from lifting the policy. They argued that suspending the program violated immigration law and would empower human traffickers. The states said they would bear the brunt of ending MPP because they were not prepared to take on the burden of providing more migrants with education or healthcare.
Biden resumed the program in December, and as of May 31, officials have only enrolled about 5,000 migrants. Now, most of the migrants Pastor Sosa welcomes to his shelters are waiting as a result of Title 42—the public health order that allows immigration officials to immediately expel migrants when they reach the border—not Remain in Mexico.
Under the second version of Remain in Mexico, U.S. Customs and Border Protection asked migrants if they feared persecution or torture from returning to Mexico. If so, they were granted a screening interview to determine if they should be exempted from the program.
According to an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, 27 people—2.4 percent of completed cases—were granted asylum under MPP during the Biden administration between December 2021 and May 2022. During that same time period, about 50 percent of asylum-seekers allowed into the United States were granted asylum.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Biden administration on June 30. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion that the district court’s decision “imposed a significant burden upon the executive’s ability to conduct diplomatic relations with Mexico.”
In the following weeks, immigrant advocacy groups grew frustrated when the administration did not immediately end the program after the Supreme Court decision. The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services released a statement on Aug. 1: “A month has passed and not only has the Biden administration done nothing to put an end to this cruel and immoral policy, the administration is shamefully still enrolling people in the program.”
The administration waited for the lower court to rule on the matter before officially ending the policy. On Monday, the court in Texas lifted its injunction. The Department of Homeland Security released a statement: “DHS is committed to ending the court-ordered implementation of MPP in a quick, and orderly, manner.”
“As [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said,” it read, “MPP has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs, and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure the border.”
But officially ending the program changed little, experts argue. Victor Manjarrez served for more than 20 years in the United States Border Patrol. Now he directs the Center for Law and Human Behavior for the University of Texas at El Paso. He said by the time the Supreme Court allowed the administration to end the program it was already “watered down to a point where there is no deterrent effect.” Most people were exempted from the program because they could prove credible fear. Others were expelled under Title 42. “It really has no more teeth to it anymore,” he said.
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