US President Joe Biden’s administration moved – for a second time – to end the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), a policy initiated by his predecessor Donald Trump that forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their court hearings.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo issued on Friday that the policy, also known as “Remain in Mexico” likely contributed to a decrease in the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border in 2019, but it also needlessly exposed people to danger.
“I have determined that MPP should be terminated,” Mayorkas said in the memo. “In reaching this conclusion, I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows. But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”
The termination, however, is not expected to take immediate effect as the fate of the policy is tied to an ongoing court battle. The US-based news site The Hill said the memo is rather meant to express the administration’s “rationale” for wanting to terminate the policy.
Biden’s administration had formally ended the programme through a DHS memo in June. But two states, Texas and Missouri, sued the administration for the “arbitrary” termination of the policy. In August, a Texas court ruled in the states’ favour and ordered the administration to reinstate the MPP.
The Biden administration appealed that decision. The US Supreme Court declined to block the Texas judge’s ruling.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says this second memo addresses some of the issues raised by the court regarding the first memo, but it cannot take effect until a court-ordered injunction is lifted.
The move came as Biden was under pressure from all sides. Republican leaders have said rescinding the programme has caused an increase in the number of arrivals, which in recent months has reached a 20-year high. They said Biden’s policies are to blame.
Trump, who put in place a series of anti-immigration measures while in office, created the MPP back in 2019. At least 70,000 people, including children, were subject to the policy. Thousands of people waited in dangerous border cities and towns in Mexico that are controlled by drug cartels. Many others abandoned their claims.
On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order that kicked off the gradual termination of the programme. His administration also has continued to rely on Title 42, a policy put used by Trump during the pandemic which allows border officials to quickly expel asylum seekers at the border back to Mexico or their country of origin, for health reasons, without the chance to file a claim.
Immigration advocates have said Biden has not done enough to reverse Trump-era policies along the border, which have effectively blocked asylum into the US. They also said the second termination memo is long overdue.
Human Rights First, a US-based group said the administration needs to immediately end the use of Title 42, as well as ensure that the MPP is terminated permanently.
“The Biden administration should take other urgent steps to ensure that Remain in Mexico is finally ended, rather than restarted, and to also end its use of the other Trump administration policy – referred to as Title 42 – which returns people seeking refugee protection to the very same extreme violence described in this termination memorandum,” Eleanor Acer, Human Rights First’s director of refugee protection told Al Jazeera in an email.
The group has tracked more than 1,500 instances of attacks and kidnappings of people subjected to MPP and said, “There is no way to make Remain in Mexico fair, safe, humane or consistent with US refugee law.”
US Senator from New Jersey Bob Menendez welcomed the move on Friday. He said the policy had forced tens of thousands of people to live in makeshift refugee camps in dangerous cities in Mexico, while doing nothing to address, let alone resolve, the region’s migration challenges.
“Forcing those fleeing for their lives to be exposed to greater risk of kidnappings, extortion, trafficking, rape, and even murder is completely inconsistent with who we strive to be as a nation,” Menendez said in a written statement. “This program should be permanently discarded along with the many other remaining Trump administration policies willfully designed to punish and deter refugees from legally seeking safety in the United States.”
Earlier this month, the administration said it was complying in “good faith” with the Texas court order and was taking steps to reinstate the programme by mid-November. It said that it was in negotiations with the Mexican government, which had presented new conditions.
Mexico said that it wanted cases to be concluded within six months and asylum seekers to have better access to legal representation and information regarding their court dates.