This week, the Biden administration announced that it will restart a Trump-era anti-immigration policy designed to restrict asylum seekers from entering the United States.
The policy is known as “Remain in Mexico” and is sometimes referred to as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP. The program requires migrants coming from Mexico or Central America to stay on Mexico’s side of the U.S.-Mexico border as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed and for an immigration court date to be arranged.
In 2019, Karen Romero of OurFuture criticized the Trump administration in an article for Truthout, saying that it “turn[ed] its back on its legal obligation to protect people fleeing persecution.” The policy was “sending vulnerable people back to some of the world’s most dangerous cities to wait indefinitely,” she added.
As a candidate in 2020, President Joe Biden harangued former President Donald Trump about the policy. Biden ended Remain in Mexico in February 2021, shortly after he was inaugurated — but two states sued to reinstate the policy, and a federal judge ruled in August that the policy had ended improperly and had to be restored.
Biden officials have said that the reimplementation of the policy is a consequence of that judge’s ruling. But the administration isn’t just putting the program back in place — they’re also expanding it. Now, the policy will apply to applicants coming from every country in the Western Hemisphere, far more countries than it originally applied to under the Trump administration.
Immigration rights advocates condemned the Biden administration for expanding the program, noting that the policy would endanger the lives of thousands of asylum seekers.
“Since its creation, the Remain in Mexico policy has subjected tens of thousands of people to grave danger and violated their fundamental right to asylum in the United States,” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement. “The Biden administration’s shameful regression in restarting this unlawful Trump policy flies in the face of its own determination that no number of changes could render this deadly policy more humane or provide the access to the asylum system that the law requires.”
“The Biden administration must stop hiding behind a flawed court order to justify restarting Remain in Mexico,” she added.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at American Immigration Council, also spoke out against the restarting of the program.
“The Biden administration’s choice to expand Remain in Mexico to everyone from the Western Hemisphere — including Haitians — makes the program even broader than it ever was under the Trump administration,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “Biden didn’t just bring back Remain in Mexico. He’s made it even worse.”
The reimplementation of the program was contingent on the agreement of Mexican officials. On Thursday, officials announced that they would support the policy if new stipulations were added, including a promise from the U.S. that no asylum applicant would have to wait longer than six months to have a court date scheduled. (Under the Trump administration, the timeline was indefinite.)
A Biden administration official, speaking to The Washington Post about the matter, said the agreements reached with Mexico on restarting the policy “are improvements we agree with. The U.S. will assign 22 immigration judges to oversee the program in order to make the process faster.” The U.S. will also reportedly “lower the bar” for what constitutes a claim of persecution in Mexico for asylum seekers, Axios reported.
This isn’t the first time the Biden administration has been criticized by immigration rights advocates for continuing harmful Trump-era immigration policies. Biden has also upheld Title 42, an order used throughout the coronavirus pandemic to expel migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, the Biden White House has actually outpaced the Trump administration’s use of the statute, expelling nearly 700,000 migrants in February through August alone.