BorderReport

With ‘Remain in Mexico’ over, asylum-seekers can stay in U.S. as their cases play out in court

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — The Biden administration’s decision to end the “Remain in Mexico” program has stoked strong reactions from those who want migrants to be able to claim asylum in the United States, and those who believe they should remain south of the border during their immigration proceedings.

The Department of Homeland Security late Monday announced that no more migrants would be put in the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which is the formal name for the policy that was started in 2019 by the Trump administration and sent asylum seekers to Mexico.

“Individuals are no longer being newly enrolled into MPP, and individuals currently in MPP in Mexico will be disenrolled when they return for their next scheduled court date. Individuals disenrolled from MPP will continue their removal proceedings in the United States,” DHS said in a statement.

This came after a judge in Amarillo, Texas, lifted an order that had required the Biden administration to re-implement the controversial program.

Over 70,000 asylum seekers have been put in the program, including almost 6,000 since it was reinstated in December.

Families gather outside tents in August 2019 after being sent to wait in Matamoros, Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

The program was ordered restarted last year after the states of Texas and Missouri sued, arguing it is necessary to help protect the Southwest border.

And on Monday, immediately after it was announced that MPP would end, Texas and Missouri filed amended lawsuits asking for the program to continue.

During an interview with CBS4 TV in Harlingen, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said MPP is necessary to secure the border.

“It actually increases the humanitarian crisis. When you don’t have policies that adequately secure the border, as it is supposed to be secured, it entices more people from throughout the entire world to make that dangerous trek through Central America and Mexico,” Abbott said.

“Texas and Missouri are actively fighting,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director for the American Immigration Council, told Border Report on Tuesday.

“The court battle continues. But in the interim, the program is terminated again and people will be allowed to come back to the United States and seek asylum inside the country rather than in dangerous conditions in northern Mexico,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, photo, migrants live in a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. One by one, asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras who are waiting in Mexico for court hearings in the United States appeared before an immigration judge to explain why, after months of effort, they couldn’t find an attorney. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

But DHS officials have made clear that although MPP is ending, migrants who do not qualify for asylum in the United States will still be put in deportation proceedings.

“So anyone who enters the United States as part of the MPP wind down would still be in removal proceedings and if they lost their asylum claims would be deported from the United States,” he said.

Andrea Rudnik, a volunteer with the nonprofit Team Brownsville, said she believes no one should be sent to live south of the border if they are trying to seek safety in the United States.

“MPP was a cruel and inhumane policy and so I am very glad to see the end of it,” Rudnik said Tuesday as she stood along the banks of the Rio Grande overlooking Matamoros, Mexico.

Her organization has helped thousands of migrants who were sent by U.S. authorities to Matamoros starting in 2019.

Upwards of 5,000 asylum seekers lived for months, and some for years, in a muddy encampment in Matamoros across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

A little girl is seen on Jan. 17, 2020, in a migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

“They were living in another world in squalid conditions with no running water without flushing toilets. Living outside. Primitive camping. Facing river snakes, rats and facing strangers in their midst so they never knew from day to day who was going to approach them,” Rudnik said. “It did break my heart every day because I knew that I could go back to my home that has air conditioning and a flushing toilet and a kitchen where I could wash dishes and basically have my needs met and they couldn’t, even though they are just half a mile from my house.”

U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican who was recently elected to represent Brownsville, disagrees with migrants waiting on U.S. soil and she wants them sent back to Mexico.

“At a time when this administration has essentially lost operational control of our southern border to drug cartels, human trafficking remains rampant, record drugs seizures are being made, and terrorists have been caught trying to enter our country, ending this policy is not only foolish — but a dereliction of duty by this president,” Flores said. “The federal government needs to do its job and secure our borders.”

The grassroots Welcome With Dignity campaign has long called for MPP to end.

“The Department of Homeland Security is rightly taking steps to end this fatally flawed policy,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First. “This humanitarian fiasco should be ended as quickly as possible. Any attempt to force the continuation of this failed policy must be rejected for what it is: irresponsible political theater that endangers the lives of people seeking refuge.”

Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, said as long as Title 42 still remains many migrants will not be allowed to cross and claim asylum.

Title 42 also is a Trump-era policy that was implemented to help prevent the spread of coronavirus across borders.

“This is a late, but important step towards undoing the harms of the previous administration. However, without restoring full access to asylum, including by ending Title 42, asylum seekers will continue to be forced into inhumane, and often deadly, situations,” Varghese said.

“The Biden administration should ensure that every person subjected to this heinous policy is provided a meaningful opportunity to pursue their asylum claims safely in the United States, with the support of the communities across the country that stand ready to welcome them,” said Blaine Bookey, legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com