U.S. And Mexico To Restart Contentious “Remain In Mexico” Program

On Thursday, U.S. and Mexican officials jointly announced the reinstatement of the Migrant Protect Protocol (MPP), a Trump-era program requiring asylum seekers to wait outside U.S. territories while claims are processed. United States President Joe Biden ended MPP, colloquially dubbed “Remain in Mexico,” in January to curb inhumane approaches to immigration. In August, U.S. District Judge and Trump-appointee Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled against Biden’s rescission and ordered the administration to negotiate terms with Mexico for reimplementation. 

While the Biden administration still seeks to formally end MPP, it had no choice but to heed this order in the short term and, with it, the policy’s “endemic flaws” and “unjustifiable human costs,” as Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas put it. Mayorkas added that the policy has also “…pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration.”

While the policy applications of MPP have not changed, Mexico and the U.S. agreed that with its reinstatement, individuals kept in Mexico will receive legal counsel, temporary legal status, work permits, reliable shelter, and transportation to court hearings. In addition, asylum claims will supposedly be processed within six months and coronavirus vaccine doses will be available to those who want them. According to the Washington Post, adults will have access to the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine while minors will be offered the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. 

However, as Matthew Reynolds, UNHCR representative for the United States and the Caribbean, said in a statement, “The announced adjustments to the policy are not sufficient to address these fundamental concerns.” Even though these adjustments are a step in the right direction, it will not only be difficult to track accessibility but also to determine the impact on asylum seekers’ safety and rights. Several human rights and aid organizations have expressed concerns about the precarious conditions encountered in border shelters, many of which are already overwhelmed and severely under-resourced. Reports of gender-based violence, kidnappings, gang-related narco-trafficking, and mental health deterioration are commonplace, but this aspect of the border situation has been largely ignored in official discourse and action. 

Amidst a year of record border crossings, arrests, and Title 42 expulsions (which largely ignore due process), the Biden administration has been much more focused on addressing the “root causes” of migration from Central American countries than dealing with the reality at the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration has pledged almost $4 billion toward keeping individuals in Central America as well as supported Sembrando Oportunidades (“Planting Opportunities”), a joint U.S.-Mexico development program aimed at combating crime, corruption, and climate change. These, too, are positive steps in transforming the U.S. approach to immigration policy and practice, but greater resources must also be directed toward ameliorating the lived experience of those existing in legal limbo, waiting to hear whether the U.S. will accept their pleas for asylum or not.