Biden starts the "send em back to Mexico" program. Trump playbook ok?
After crushing it at the border, Joe appears to be warming to Lord Voldemort's earlier playbook?
U.S. Reaches Deal to Restart ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program for Asylum Seekers
The Biden administration’s agreement with Mexico allows the U.S. to resume a controversial Trump-era policy, but with some changes
By Michelle Hackman
Updated Dec. 2, 2021 11:47 am ET
WASHINGTON—The Biden administration has reached an agreement with Mexico to restart a controversial Trump-era immigration policy known as Remain in Mexico, officials said Thursday. It expects to begin sending migrants back to the country beginning on Monday while their asylum claims are considered.
The policy, formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols, was introduced by former President Donald Trump in 2019 at the height of a surge in Central American families coming to the U.S. border. After the policy was introduced, border crossings fell sharply. But migrants sent back to Mexico faced a range of dangers, including assault, kidnapping and murder, according to reports from human-rights groups and internal reports produced by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Biden administration is restarting the program—which President Biden called “dangerous and inhumane” during the 2020 campaign—to comply with an order by a federal court in Texas that said its attempt to wind down the program was unlawful.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. government told Mexico the U.S. will address Mexico’s humanitarian concerns, including providing resources for migrant shelters in Mexico and measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The program will exist alongside Title 42, a separate Trump-era public-health policy the Biden administration has continued to implement, allowing it to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico—or on deportation flights to their home countries—without a chance to ask for asylum. U.S. officials said they would give priority to Title 42 and will only place migrants into the Remain in Mexico program if they can’t be expelled using the public-health authority.
Both single adults along with migrant families could be sent back to Mexico under the resumed policy.
Many Republicans have said Mr. Biden, a Democrat, isn’t doing enough to secure the border and stem illegal border crossings, which hit a record at about 1.66 million this past fiscal year. Some Democrats and immigration activists have expressed frustration at the administration’s continuation of some Trump-era immigration policies, accusing Mr. Biden of betraying his campaign pledges.
“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy was a humanitarian disaster when it was first implemented, and it is doomed to be so again,” said Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, which cataloged kidnappings and other instances of violence under the policy’s last iteration.
The Trump administration argued Remain in Mexico was necessary because it cut much of the incentive to migrate, as migrants making asylum claims wouldn’t be allowed to live and work in the U.S. while they wait for their cases to be resolved, a process that routinely took years.
U.S. officials said that they have made many changes to the Remain in Mexico program to make it safer for migrants—changes they said Mexico had demanded as conditions to restart the program.
Migrants will be given time to consult with U.S.-based lawyers before being sent back to Mexico and will receive screenings to ensure they don’t have a “reasonable fear” of returning to the country. The categories of migrants exempted from the program will also be expanded to include elderly migrants, those with physical or mental disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender migrants, who could face discrimination in Mexico.
Adults will also be given the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, and children the Pfizer vaccine, with a second dose administered at one of their court hearings.
The U.S. officials said they have committed to wrap up asylum cases of each migrant placed into the program within six months. They will also provide shelter and safe transport to and from U.S. court hearings, possibly with the assistance of United Nations organizations. Under the Trump administration, migrants were most often targeted for kidnappings when the U.S. returned them to Mexico after hearings at ports of entry.
The U.S. plans to return migrants to Mexico at four ports of entry—in San Diego, Calif., and El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville in Texas—though the program won’t exist at all four ports right away. Officials also said migrants returned to Mexico at Brownsville and Laredo would be moved to interior cities in Mexico, because the cities directly across the border—Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo—are too dangerous.
Immigration officials had been tussling for months—even before the court ruled—over whether restarting the program was a necessary step to stem the flow of migrants.
Mr. Biden had paused the program on his first day in office, despite warnings from some on his team that the move could prompt more border crossings, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Mexico also objected at the time, wanting the program to continue, those officials said.
The court ruling in August after a lawsuit brought by the states of Texas and Missouri resolved that debate.
Still, the administration is attempting to split the difference, reinstating the program even as it fights in court to terminate it. That dual approach reflects deep internal divisions throughout the administration on the direction of its immigration policy.
In a statement, a DHS spokesman noted that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro 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.”
Mexico has said it is willing to accept Spanish speakers, the U.S. officials said, which will allow the U.S. to send growing numbers of migrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean back to Mexico rather than releasing them in the U.S. The U.S. has been struggling with swelling numbers of migrants from countries including Cuba and Venezuela where the U.S. is unable to deport.
The administration will face some practical challenges in its implementation of Remain in Mexico. Earlier this fall, administration officials attempted to enlist the help of pro-bono legal aid organizations to provide legal services to the migrants under the program, all of whom need to quickly put together their asylum cases. But the organizations have for the most part declined to participate, in one meeting even staging a virtual walkout on the Biden administration to protest the restart of the program.
Under the Trump administration, less than 1% of migrants placed into Remain in Mexico won their asylum cases, far lower than average rates that experts attributed in part to the group’s lack of access to U.S.-based lawyers.
—Anthony Harrup contributed to this article.