Moving Towards a Safe and Just Asylum Process

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photo credit: Mike DuBose

On August 8, the Department of Homeland Security stated it was preparing to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Asylum seekers will now be allowed to cross the border on the day of their hearings and stay in the United States while awaiting a decision.

What is “Remain in Mexico”?

The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, began in January 2019 during the Trump administration. President Joe Biden attempted to end the program in June 2021, honoring a campaign promise to end former President Trump’s “detrimental asylum policies.” The Biden administration was blocked, however, when the Attorneys General from Texas and Missouri sued, and U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk issued an injunction, impeding the termination of the program.

“Remain in Mexico” allows US border officials to return non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico while their claims are adjudicated in US immigration courts. Under the agreement, the Mexican government should guarantee that asylum seekers have access to work, health care, and education while they wait. Asylum seekers are at risk of kidnapping, extortion, rape, and other abuses in Mexico while they await a decision. As a result, many asylum seekers are fearful of going outside or interacting with Mexican officials, making it difficult to obtain these benefits.

According to DHS records, between December 2021 and early July, about 5,800 asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico to await their U.S. court dates. Most were adults from Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Battle in the Courts

On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 opinion that the Biden administration could end the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The administration, however, remained silent for weeks, surprising and angering immigration advocates who urged the president to take immediate action.

Several steps had to be taken before DHS could move forward and end the “Remain in Mexico” policy. First, the Supreme Court had to certify its ruling, which is did last week. Also on August 8, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk lifted his injunction blocking Biden officials from ending the program. Now that the path is clear, DHS has said it will quickly end the policy and provide additional information in the coming days.

What’s Next?

Immigration and human rights advocates, as well as our own legal team, welcome the end of this inhumane policy, which left many asylum seekers in uncertain circumstances. “The sooner the Remain in Mexico policy is fully terminated, the better,” says NY JFON Asylum Attorney Alexis Duecker. “Many of my clients who were enrolled in the original version of MPP suffered serious trauma as they waited in Mexico for their court dates – to say nothing of the added stress, uncertainty, and instability that enrollment in the program caused.”

However, the fight for a safe and fair asylum process is not over. Title 42 restrictions, which enforce the removal of persons who have recently been in a country where a communicable disease was present, are still in effect. “Unfortunately, unraveling MPP is only the first step, as due to Title 42 restrictions, many asylum seekers must still wait outside of the U.S.,”  says NY JFON Asylum Attorney Alexis Duecker. “I look forward to a time when asylum seekers can safely and humanely claim asylum in the United States.”

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