A top US official told a news broadcaster that the Biden administration is resuming a Trump-era border program that requires migrants to wait in Mexico while their asylum requests are reviewed, despite the “inhumane” conditions that the policy is blamed for.
The Biden administration is required to reinstate the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, which instructed 70,000 non-Mexican asylum-seekers to wait outside the United States, often in squalid tent camps and crime-ridden border towns, due to a federal court order that the Supreme Court refused to suspend. Despite these remarks, which echo President Biden’s own statements about Remain in Mexico, Mayorkas stated that he is “obligated” to reinstate the Trump administration’s policy due to the August court order. “We intend to implement the program while we appeal the decision,” he added.
Remain in Mexico’s implementation will also need to be approved, even if only informally, by the Mexican government, which has publicly referred to the policy as a “unilateral” US action. Mexican government representatives did not respond to questions about the status of talks with the United States.
On Mr. Biden’s first day in office, the administration suspended the policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Mayorkas terminated the program in June, calling it ineffective and costly.
The revival of Remain in Mexico, the centerpiece of the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict asylum at the southern border, would be an extraordinary policy reversal for Mr. Biden, one that would infuriate migrant advocates, Democratic lawmakers, and US government asylum officers.
“It is abundantly clear that the United States cannot safely reinstate MPP, and that any attempt to return people seeking safety to harm in Mexico will violate U.S. and international legal obligations to refugees,” a letter signed by 31 Democratic lawmakers, led by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and Senator Bob Menendez, said to Mayorkas.
Democratic members of Congress cited over 6,000 reports of kidnappings, assaults, and rapes against migrants sent to northern Mexico by US border officials, including areas where the State Department warns Americans not to visit due to rampant cartel violence and crime. Asylum officers in the United States have also expressed concern about being forced to implement a policy they have condemned as illegal, draconian, and inhumane.
“The reinstatement of MPP puts thousands of asylum seekers in danger and denies them the right to a fair hearing of their claims,” Michael Knowles, president of AFGE Local 1924, which represents US asylum and refugee officers, told reporters.
Another U.S. asylum officer who returned to Mexico to interview migrants during the Trump administration said he would speak out if he was asked to participate in the policy again. According to the asylum officer, he interviewed migrants who told him about being kidnapped, raped, mugged, and extorted in Mexico.
According to a data analysis conducted by Syracuse University researchers, only 723 people — or 1.6 percent — of the 43,800 migrants whose MPP cases were completed were granted U.S. protection. According to advocates, the high rate of denials is due to migrants’ difficulty in finding lawyers and dangerous conditions in Mexico, which prompted some to abandon their cases.
Advocates have urged the Biden administration not to return asylum-seekers to Mexico, claiming that a “kinder” version of the MPP program cannot be revived. Instead, advocates have suggested that the Biden administration issue a new memo terminating the MPP program that addresses the concerns raised by U.S. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who stated that Mayorkas failed to consider the policy’s “benefits,” including its deterrent effect on migrants who do not qualify for U.S. refugee status.
Even if the new memo does not address Kacsmaryk’s concerns, it may persuade the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court to stay the ruling, according to Judy Rabinovitz, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who led a lawsuit against Remain in Mexico that is currently on hold. That separate court case, which led to MPP being declared illegal by two federal courts in California, could restart if the Biden administration revives the policy.