EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso leads the nation in welcoming back asylum-seekers placed in the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols program, new data shows.

The U.S. government as of Friday had taken 10,707 international citizens out of MPP and let them continue their claims from inside the United States, a United Nations official told Border Report. Three out of four of those returnees came in through the El Paso or the Brownsville, Texas ports of entry, with Cubans and Venezuelans having the greatest success in getting the “parole” designation, according to a May 11 report by the TRAC system at Syracuse University.

Migrant advocates opposed MPP since its 2019 inception, arguing it sent vulnerable families to Mexican border cities where drug gangs operate and migrants are often victims of extortion, robbery, kidnapping or rape. The Trump administration placed more than 65,000 asylum-seekers on the program. The Biden administration began the MPP rollback on Feb. 19 and estimated that 25,000 would qualify based on active cases.

“On the whole, the operation continues to go well. There were one or two hiccups in February, mainly technical issues – internet and bandwidth capacity – that we worked very quickly to address,” said Christopher Boian, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “People continue to enter (the U.S.) after registering, having their information verified, having a phone interview and going through all the steps required by the U.S. government.”

The UN agency is helping the U.S. government manage the process by operating the registration website. Another UN agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working with the Mexican government on the logistics of COVID-19 testing and transportation.

Graphic courtesy Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

Migrants placed out of MPP started crossing into El Paso in late February. The initial groups of 25 swelled to 50, then 75 per day. Today, Annunciation House is receiving an average of 60 migrants a day who stay only as long as it takes them to arrange transportation to their final destination in the U.S.

Border Report in the past two years has interviewed dozens of MPP migrants in Juarez, Mexico. Some have shared stories of kidnappings, stabbings and extortion over that time. They all described their stay in Mexico as an ordeal.

“They’re extremely happy to be back. The program is unwinding extremely well. It was well thought out, well planned,” said Ruben Garcia, executive director of Annunciation House.

He said it’s his understanding that 40 percent of returning MPP program participants are coming in through the El Paso port of entry. However, the situation remains quite manageable in terms of space and resources. “We have plenty of room. We’re doing well. Those numbers (60 per day) are low for us. We’re accustomed to handling much higher numbers,” Garcia said.

A tour of Casa del Refugiado, the shelter where Annunciation House of El Paso is housing returning MPP program participants. (Border Report file video)

The TRAC report estimates some 18,087 MPP participants remain in Mexico and have yet to be called back. But the pace of the rollback is accelerating. In February and March, the border reopened to 3,911 asylum seekers with active cases; more than 4,000 came in during April alone.

The report found disparities in just who gets called back from Mexico. In Laredo, Texas and San Ysidro, Calif., the criteria seem to be “first-in, first-processed,” meaning those who have been waiting the longest get priority. But in El Paso and Calexico, Calif., the more recent arrivals have been called in at four times the rate of those who came in 2019.

Central Americans fleeing crime garnered the attention of the news media during the 2018-2019 migrant surge, yet only 19 percent of MPPs from Guatemala had been paroled by the end of April, compared to 51 percent of Venezuelans and 46 percent of Cubans.

Neither the TRAC report nor the UN official postulated explanations for the disparities.

Graphic courtesy Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

“To say why one over the other would be purely speculative,” Boian said. “The MPP rollback continues to move forward and it’s worthy work. We are happy to have been asked to support the U.S. government in carrying out this work.”

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