Remain in Mexico program for migrants ‘places them in danger,’ say immigration advocates

Immigration advocates and attorneys are voicing frustration with the Biden administration over its court-ordered reimplementation of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, saying the enforcement and expansion of a program the administration opposed in court shows the White House isn’t fighting as aggressively as it could.

Video Transcript

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- The Biden administration has relaunched the Trump era Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, more commonly known as the Remain in Mexico policy, a controversial practice that requires asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are processed.

- Inhumane, counterproductive, and a moral and national shame. That is how President Biden described the Trump era immigration policy called Remain in Mexico when he was a presidential candidate.

- President Biden had tried to end the Trump era practice, but a federal court forced its reinstatement.

DULCE GARCIA: This MPP program is something that the Biden administration promised to end during the elections, and we quote what the Biden administration, what Mayorkas said about the MPP program. We're all on the same page that this is a horrible program and it causes so much harm to our community. Here we are, towards the end of the year, opening again this horrible policy that will place people in harm's way.

- There are some areas in Mexico which are extremely dangerous, and specifically the border is a very dangerous place, which is the area that concerns us when it comes to the MPP programs.

- A report from Human Rights First registered 6,356 violent attacks against migrants in Mexico since January. These include rape, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and other assaults against them.

DULCE GARCIA: At any given time, we support 2,500 people from all the 17 shelters total, but it varies. This places them in danger, as we have heard before in the past the way the MPP was being implemented. During the Trump administration, we heard numerous reports of people being kidnapped. Some had spouses that were killed while this was going on.

- According to the Department of Homeland Security, migrants began being returned to Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, Texas. Officials say it will eventually expand to seven other locations. San Diego and Calexico, Nogales, Arizona, and in several Texas border cities, including Brownsville and Eagle Pass.

DULCE GARCIA: What the new MPP memo is stating is that it will not only apply to Latin American countries or Spanish speaking countries, but it will also apply to the Western hemisphere countries, meaning now we're looking into having Haitians be placed into this MPP program.

- The revival of the policy comes as a lawsuit by Texas and Missouri has forced President Biden to put it back into effect, plus coming to an agreement with the Mexican government.

DULCE GARCIA: The Biden administration is saying that they're being ordered by the Texas Court to implement MPP and they had to do so in, quote unquote, "good faith". That was the, the order from the court. However, the court did not order the Biden administration to expand on the program, and what the Biden administration is doing is making things worse by adding Haitians onto this program when they're being told to wait in a country where they're not safe.

We've seen that firsthand in Tijuana with the humanitarian work that we do, with the legal cases that we've handled in Tijuana. We know that Haitians have a very difficult time not only because of the language barrier, but because they're very vulnerable people. They're among the more vulnerable just being Black migrants in a city that is not welcoming to them.

- Under the new memo, the administration is promising legal packages to asylum seekers, like having access to lawyers. However, the likelihood of someone getting granted asylum while waiting in Mexico is slim.

DULCE GARCIA: It's really heartbreaking, because we know that the access to counsel, which determines whether someone's going to have a successful case or not, it's still not being addressed. But they are wording it as if they have fixed all of the issues by saying that they have created legal packages providing legal information. That is not going to be enough. They might have a very good claim, they just won't necessarily know how to articulate.

- Only 1% of asylum seekers subject to the policy were granted asylum. According to Syracuse University's transactional records, about 6 of 10 claims were denied or dismissed, and the rest are pending, and only about 1 of every 10 had legal representation, well below the average in US immigration court.

DULCE GARCIA: Their chances of winning their case is exponential, because then they can access the resources in the US, the nonprofits that are local in their final destination. They will have the support of family members. That, coupled with access to be able to obtain the evidence that they need and access to their lawyer, to go into their offices, to meet with someone, to, to go over their case, it's exponential, their likelihood of winning.

The right to asylum was very much politicized during the Trump administration, and Biden promised to protect asylum seekers, to restore protections for asylum seekers. And so the Biden administration is very much failing on their promises.