The Biden administration has reached a deal with the Mexican government to restart a Trump-era border initiative that mandated all asylum-seekers be returned to Mexico while their claims are processed.
U.S. and Mexican officials struck an agreement re-implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols program, otherwise known as "Remain in Mexico," U.S. officials announced Thursday. The Biden administration was forced to follow the Remain in Mexico plan by a Supreme Court order earlier this year.
The Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State on Thursday morning outlined the plan to restart the program, confirming that Mexico had agreed to accept back migrants returned under MPP. The two governments will work out the details before reimplementing the program on Dec. 6 at seven ports of entry along the southern border: San Diego and Calexico in California; Nogales in Arizona; and El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo, and Brownsville in Texas.
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President Joe Biden had initially tried to end the program, which former President Donald Trump boasted defused the border crisis before he left office, on humanitarian grounds.
In a statement Thursday morning, the administration noted it was reimposing the policy under duress, saying that "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 Biden administration revised MPP to ensure all who are sent back to Mexico have their cases resolved in six months and are not waiting indefinitely, as some of the 60,000 returned under Trump had been. It also mandates that asylum-seekers have "secure access to, and communicate with, counsel before and during non-refoulement interviews and immigration court hearings" and requires more information about the legal process be provided to asylum-seekers, so they better understand the process. Asylum-seekers will also be offered coronavirus vaccines.
Single adults and families are expected to be placed into the program if they are not able to be immediately expelled to Mexico under a separate U.S. initiative known as Title 42, the Wall Street Journal reported. Title 42, a coronavirus pandemic restriction the Trump administration enacted in March 2020, allowed border officials to turn away immediately any child or adult who came across the border. The Biden administration still operates under Title 42, but in the spring, it stopped sending back most families to their home countries because Mexican state governments refused to take back migrants who were not from Mexico or Central America.
Mexico agreed, as before, to accept Spanish speakers, which could mean Haitian migrants, many of whom are coming from South America.
The elderly, people with physical or mental disabilities, and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender will be exempt from return under MPP because they are at greatest risk of abuse or discrimination if sent back to Mexico.
Biden suspended the Remain in Mexico policy upon taking office and originally tried to end it in June, but was successfully sued by Texas and Missouri to reinstate it and lost an appeal to the Supreme Court. The administration has been in the process of restarting the program to fulfill the court order while it works to end it in a way that can withstand another legal challenge.
The move to restart the program follows the Biden administration’s second attempt to gut it in October. The DHS issued a memo to agency heads on Oct. 29 stating plans to try again at rescinding MPP on the basis it imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”
Although the court ordered the government to reinstate Remain in Mexico, the United States could not do so without cooperation from Mexico. The Mexican government sought assurances the asylum cases would be processed faster than they were under the previous administration, according to the Washington Post.
One factor that influenced Mexico's decision was the Biden administration's willingness to launch a joint development program with Mexico aimed at addressing problems in Central America that prompt people to flee north. Sembrando Oportunidades, or Planting Opportunities, was similar to a project that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had been lobbying the U.S, to take up for several years, the Post reported.
The DHS recently disclosed in court documents related to the MPP suit that the U.S. has forked up $14 million and plans to spend an additional $24 million per month to set up tent courts where judges will hear asylum cases in select regions of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Although the Biden administration previously stated this restart is not intended to be permanent, the move may face legal action.
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Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the new MPP deal a "shameful regression." NILC warned Attorney General Merrick Garland and Mayorkas in November they may sue on the basis that MPP violates the rights of Salvadorans seeking asylum in the U.S.