The Biden administration will restart the “Stay in Mexico” program next Monday, which requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases unfold, according to a federal government announcement Thursday.
The reimplementation goes beyond what was recently ordered by a federal judge and includes an extension of the program to any nationality in the Western Hemisphere. Under the Trump administration, the program – which began in 2019 and was officially known as the âMigrant Protection Protocolsâ or MPP – was restricted to people from Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil, where Portuguese is the language dominant.
The largest group likely to be affected by the change are Haitian migrants, who have found themselves targeted by law enforcement in Mexico and the United States this year.
âWe obviously lost the battle against the MPP, and now they’re starting over, creating this environment where people’s lives will continue to be in danger – not that they care about these people to begin with,â Haitian’s Guerline Jozef said. Bridge Alliance. , which helps migrants, especially black migrants, in Mexico and at the US border.
The initial version of the program radically changed the procedures for examining asylum claims in the United States. This screening process determines whether migrants who are afraid to return to their country of origin are refugees based on international definitions adopted in US law.
It is still unclear where the deployment will begin on Monday, but the Department of Homeland Security said San Diego and Calexico will be among the places people will be sent back to await the resumption of the program.
This policy has been widely condemned by immigration lawyers, human rights observers and the United Nations refugee agency.
âUNHCR has from the outset expressed serious concerns about the MPP and its impact on the safety of asylum seekers and their due process rights. The announced policy adjustments are not sufficient to address these fundamental concerns, âsaid Matthew Reynolds, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative for the United States and the Caribbean.
âUNHCR has never been involved in the implementation of the MPP and will not support the restored policy. We supported the U.S. government’s work earlier this year to end the MPP program and urge the United States to continue those efforts. “
President Joe Biden himself has widely criticized the program during the election campaign, and his administration tried to shut down Remain in Mexico early in his term. But the states of Texas and Missouri have challenged the administration in federal court, where a judge ordered the program to be reinstated.
“The MPP had endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, diverted resources and personnel from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration,” Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of State for Migration, said in October. Homeland Security. “The MPP not only undermines the administration’s ability to implement essential and fundamental changes to the immigration system, but it fails to provide the fair process and the humanitarian protections that individuals deserve under the law. . “
Although the administration appealed the decision and reissued a memorandum terminating the program, it has in the meantime worked to negotiate with Mexico to restart the MPP.
“This administration … remains subject to a court order requiring it to reapply the MPP in good faith, which it will respect even if it continues to vigorously challenge the decision,” DHS said Thursday in announcing the restart.
But many advocates say the administration’s expanding the program beyond its reach under former President Donald Trump shows it is using the court order as a cover to renege on promises to get rid of the drug. program and create a more humane asylum. processing system.
âThe expansion of Remain in Mexico or MPP to include nationalities from across the Western Hemisphere goes against the administration’s promises to end the MPP,â said Kate Clark of Jewish Family Service, who provided legal assistance to asylum seekers stranded in Mexico.
Proponents of strategies like Remain in Mexico see them as deterrents to prevent migrants from reaching the US border. The United States has a long history of using such measures at its southern border to try to keep people out.
Some report a downward trend in apprehensions by the border patrol in the months following full implementation of the program, a sign that it was producing the desired effect. But it’s hard to say if this was just part of the normal seasonal pattern, as the pandemic disrupted spring migration the following year.
Some migrants felt their only option under the program was to try to sneak into the United States undetected rather than seek asylum. The San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed migrants who were placed in the program and now live as undocumented immigrants in the United States
The announcement of the restart comes after Mexico last week released a list of conditions the United States should meet before agreeing to accept asylum seekers returned to their soil under the program. Mexico said Thursday that the United States had addressed all of its concerns, the main ones being financial support for shelters, COVID-19 precautions and measures to address security concerns and shelter capacity in the border region.
DHS has referred questions on the amount of funding for Mexican shelters or how that funding will be provided to the State Department. The State Department did not respond to questions sent by the Union-Tribune.
Returnees will receive COVID-19 vaccines, DHS said, and the vaccination will be necessary for them to return to the United States to attend their court hearings.
Questions about the safety of MPP returnees persist for many advocates who attended the program’s first iteration.
Human Rights First has gathered information on more than 1,500 violent attacks, including rapes and kidnappings, against people enrolled in the program while in Mexico. The organization has also documented more than 6,300 such attacks on migrants stranded in Mexico as part of another Trump-era program that the Biden administration has kept in place and defended as needed during the pandemic. known as Title 42. This program allows border officials to deport migrants to Mexico or their country of origin without offering them access to asylum examinations.
DHS guidelines say that as part of the MPP restart, the department will coordinate with the State Department and the Mexican government to provide transportation and shelter to those enrolled in the program. DHS told the Union-Tribune that the Mexican government is committed to ensuring the security of these transports and to strengthening the security of the shelters.
Diego Aranda-Texeira of Al Otro Lado, a legal services organization that supports asylum seekers in Tijuana, was skeptical of Mexico’s ability to accommodate more arrivals given the number of waits already in the region. due to Title 42 or previous version of the MPP.
âIt’s not like northern Mexico is now empty,â Aranda-Texeira said. âThings are already full. We’re just going to keep accumulating more and more people.
The new program guidelines also list situations border officers can take into account when deciding whether someone should be exempted. These include people with mental or physical health problems, elderly migrants and people at risk in Mexico because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Each assessment will be made on a case-by-case basis, on the basis of all the circumstances,” says the guide.
This sentence worries Aranda-Texeira. He believes, based on his organization’s previous experiences with the program, that this will allow border authorities to return people in these categories anyway.
“These are not the softer immigration policies that we were promised last year in the elections,” said Aranda-Texeira. “It’s just Trump with a smile. It’s going to hurt people.
The guidelines also change the legal standard that returnees will have to meet in order to prove that they are in danger in Mexico and should not be forced to stay there.
But for many of those who supported asylum seekers in the MPP’s last round, this change is irrelevant.
Asylum seekers must wait in detention at the border to speak with asylum officers about their experiences in Mexico. The conditions of detention, combined with the effects of trauma from their past, make it difficult for them to explain the parts of their stories that are relevant to the legal standard, said Margaret Cargioli of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
Kelly Overton, whose Border Kindness organization originally came to Mexicali to help MPP returnees travel to the Tijuana border for their San Diego court dates, said he was concerned the decision of the Biden’s administration didn’t shape US asylum policy for decades.