Another attempt to end the “stay in Mexico” immigration policy


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WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is making another attempt to end a Trump-era immigration program that has been re-established by a court, and offers a more detailed description of the “benefits and costs” of forcing some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are pending.

“I have come to the conclusion that the program has inherent problems that cannot be adequately addressed with a lot of resources,” wrote Homeland Security Minister Alejandro N. Mayorkas in the new rationale for terminating the program released on Friday.

Republicans said the program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, has curbed illegal migration, while human rights defenders have attacked it as inhuman.

While the government is still complying with the court order to resume the program, it hopes the new memo addresses the issues raised by a federal judge in Texas who ruled in August that Mr. Mayorkas justification for terminating the program in June was: “arbitrary and capricious.”

Condemning the program while making plans for a fresh start shows how difficult it was for the Biden administration to deliver on one of President Biden’s biggest campaign promises: some of former President Donald J. Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.

The MPP program, also known as Remain in Mexico, “had endemic deficiencies, resulted in unjustified personnel costs, drained resources and personnel from other priority efforts, and did not address the root causes of irregular migration,” Mayorkas said in a statement on Friday, adding that it “does not provide the fair trial and humanitarian protection that individuals deserve under the law”.

The Biden administration has continued to apply a health rule introduced by Mr Trump at the start of the pandemic that gives border officials the power to reject migrants, even asylum seekers, who have also been labeled as inhuman by immigration advocates. It was used about 60 percent of the time and many were allowed into the country to apply for asylum.

After Mr Biden finished the program, Missouri and Texas sued for restitution – in part because the termination forced them to provide government services to immigrants who were now allowed to wait here for their asylum applications to be processed, in part because the sluggish system. Judge Matthew J. Kacsmaryk of the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas sided with the states.

The Supreme Court refused to block his order and the administration, despite opposition, has tried to resume it. (The program also faced legal challenges during the Trump administration.)

The program forces asylum seekers who have left a third country and traveled through Mexico to wait there for the US to make a decision on their case. It was introduced in early 2019 and was one of several measures taken during the Trump administration to restrict who can seek asylum in the US.

Human rights activists argued that the program forced people to stay in unsanitary tent camps, where they were exposed to inclement weather and the risk of sexual assault, kidnapping and torture. On Friday, New Jersey Democrat Senator Bob Menendez described the policy as “one of the most destructive remnants of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant legacy.”

In a court file filed Thursday, Missouri and Texas argued that the surge in Haitian migrants who arrived in Del Rio last month could have been prevented if the program had been carried out. “The crisis at the border continues, not least because the defendants do not adhere to it in good faith,” said the court’s application on Thursday to resume the program. Without the program, thousands of migrants would have “reason to believe that they can freely enter the United States,” the plaintiffs said.

In the new termination memo, Mr Mayorkas admitted that data suggests there have been fewer illegal border crossings during the life of the program, a point Republicans have hammered on as the country has had the highest number of illegal border crossings in the past 12 months Border crossings for at least 12 months recorded 60 years.

“But it did so by imposing significant and unjustifiable human costs on those who suffered harm while waiting in Mexico,” he wrote, adding that “correlation is not causality and even here the evidence is inconclusive are”.

Since August, the government has been taking steps to resume the program, including issuing new contracts to build campsites on the Texas border that existed before the Biden government ended the program. The administration said it was ready to resume the program in mid-November.

This prompted groups offering legal advice to asylum seekers waiting in Mexico to tell the Biden government that they would not participate if the program was resumed.

“We refuse to be part of a program that will facilitate rape, torture, death and family separation of those seeking protection by pledging to provide legal assistance,” the groups wrote in a letter earlier this month.

But nothing can happen unless Mexico agrees that people wait there while American immigration officials review asylum applications. Homeland Security officials said the government is in talks with Mexico trying to address some of the humanitarian concerns the country said must be addressed before reinstatement. A call from the Mexican government is for the United States to act more quickly in deciding on asylum cases, a Homeland Security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the regulations of the authorities.

There are more than 25,000 asylum applications pending from those affected by the program, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Of the closed cases, only 1.6 percent of the applicants were granted asylum.

Ursela Ojeda, the senior policy advisor on the Migrant Rights and Justice program of the Women’s Commission for Refugees, said the new memo was a welcome move but she hoped Mr Mayorkas would have released it sooner.

“It is really worrying that we have been in this administration for 10 months and there are still several Trump administration guidelines – not just MPP – that are still being implemented at the border,” she said, particularly the continuation of the health rule, the administration fights for their place in court. “Instead, we see a doubling of the policy of deterrence and a policy that is really incompatible with the asylum law in this country.”

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