The Biden administration on Friday announced its second attempt to terminate a Trump-era border policy that forces asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their U.S. immigration court date.
This comes two weeks after the administration complied with a Texas federal judge’s order to reinstate the policy, known as “Remain in Mexico,” by mid-November.
While the administration is carrying out the order to reimplement the policy, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced his intentions to end “Remain in Mexico” if the order is lifted by the federal judge who issued it or an appellate court.
He issued a first memo in June that terminated the program until the federal judge’s order thwarted his plan.
The “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, was first implemented in 2019 by former President Donald Trump amid an increase of Central American families crossing the southwest border.
In the memo, Mayorkas conceded that MPP likely reduced unauthorized migration to the U.S.-Mexico border under the Trump administration. But he said it imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs” on the thousands of migrants who waited in Mexico, which demonstrates a need to end the program.
“The benefits of MPP are far outweighed by the costs of continuing to use the program on a programmatic basis, in whatever form,” Mayorkas said in the new, four-page memo.
“MPP not only undercuts the Administration’s ability to implement critically needed and foundational changes to the immigration system, but it also fails to provide the fair process and humanitarian protections that all persons deserve,” he said.
President Joe Biden suspended MPP on his first day in office, calling it inhumane due to the violence migrants faced while waiting in Mexico.
This prompted the Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri to sue the Biden administration in April over ending the policy. In August, a federal judge for the Northern District of Texas sided with the states and ordered the administration to reinstate the policy pending the outcome of the lawsuit.
The Supreme Court also declined the administration’s request to block the judge’s order in August.
In the Friday memo, Mayorkas outlined the Biden administration’s justification for ending MPP in an effort to address the federal judge’s concerns.
For instance, he noted that the Mexican government said it will not accept migrants that return to Mexico under MPP unless “substantial improvements” are made to the program.
But such improvements would pull resources and personnel away from other “productive efforts” to address the root causes of migration and fight transnational criminal and smuggling networks, according to Mayorkas.
“I have concluded that there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix,” he said in the memo.
Mayorkas also noted that migrants sent to Mexico under MPP were subject to “extreme violence and insecurity” at the hands of transnational criminal organizations.
An estimated 70,000 migrants were returned to Mexico under MPP since 2019, according to the American Immigration Council. Migrants subject to the policy often waited months, if not years, to see an immigration judge.
While waiting in Mexico, they also faced threats of extortion, sexual assault and kidnapping, according to Human Rights First. There have been at least 1,544 reported cases of rape, kidnapping and assault, among other crimes, committed against migrants sent back under the Trump-era policy through February 2021.
Mayorkas said the Biden administration can decrease migration to the southern border and provide protection to migrants who qualify for asylum through other policies being developed. This includes a fast-tracked immigration court program and a proposed rule that would allow asylums officers to “produce timely and fair decision-making” about asylums claims.
“Once fully implemented, these policies will address migratory flows more effectively than MPP, while holding true to our nation’s values,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
The Biden administration’s latest attempt to end the policy was supported by some Democrats, who have argued against reinstating it.
“The Remain in Mexico policy is one of the most destructive vestiges of Trump’s anti-immigrant legacy, and should be permanently discarded along with the many other remaining Trump admin policies willfully designed to punish & deter refugees from legally seeking safety in the US,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a Twitter post.