“I think I’m finally going to be able to get a good night’s sleep. In Juárez, I couldn’t sleep very well.” Willian, an Ecuadorian asylum seeker, was one of eight in his group who were transported to an El Paso court to terminate their enrollment in the Migrant Protection Protocol, otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Willian expressed his relief to be in the United States, where he was able to contact a relative in New York, removing himself from a limbo of uncertainty while staying in a country he was not familiar with.
The Migrant Protection protocol was put into place during Trump’s time in office and as of January 2019, asylum seekers who were going through a court process were made to await their proceedings in Mexico. The asylum seekers that were sent to Mexico were not Mexican citizens, drawing criticism from the affected individuals on the carelessness of the government in further exposing them to more violence.
Donald Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy is dangerous, inhumane, and goes against everything we stand for as a nation of immigrants. My administration will end it. https://t.co/toYzMaPP1Y
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 12, 2020
Biden first suspended the policy in January and was supported by the Supreme Court, but received pushback from Texas and Missouri, leading to a lawsuit from both states against the administration. The states argued that the termination of the policy would lead to an exhaustion of resources that they felt were unjust on behalf of the administration. On June 30, 2022, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the termination of the program, citing that the “DHS had lawfully terminated the MPP program.”
The effects of the policy were recorded in anecdotal stories by organizations working alongside the border. With shelters unable to accommodate the asylum seekers, many were forced to sleep on the streets, often with young children in tow, becoming easy targets for extortion, kidnapping, and sexual abuse.
In a release by Doctors Without Borders, the organization reported that “the percentage of MSF patients who were in Nuevo Laredo due to MPP who had been kidnapped rose to 75 percent,” from just 43 percent a month prior.
The MPP protocol was established on December 20, 2018 by the Donald Trump administration. In January 2019, it began operating and through December 2020, more than 72,000 asylum seekers in the United States were returned to await their processes before the US courts on the Mexican side, according to a report by Imumi, Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migracion.
During the first two years that “Remain in Mexico” was active, 95% of the more than 72,000 people placed in this protocol could not access a lawyer, which meant that only 1% were able to win their cases. During its reinstatement, only 0.53% of all open cases were able to access asylum in the United States. While they waited in Mexico, the population was subjected to rape, kidnapping, extortion and various violent acts -even death, asserts Imumi.
The termination of the policy was welcomed on both sides of the border. The DHS, issued an official statement welcoming the U.S. District Court’s decision to lift the injunction that required DHS to reimplement the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). DHS stated they are committed to ending the court-ordered implementation of MPP “in a quick, and orderly, manner.”
Individuals are no longer being newly enrolled into MPP, and individuals currently in MPP in Mexico will be disenrolled when they return for their next scheduled court date and continue their removal proceedings in the United States. For his part, Secretary Mayorkas said, MPP has “endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs, and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border.”
The sudden termination of the policy has led to some confusion among those who were unaware of changes in the program. Some individuals were released, unexpectedly, in the United States following their court hearings. Other individuals who had their court dates scheduled for a later time, such as an Honduran family whose court date was scheduled for 2023, experienced unexpected good news, as their date was moved up with the help of an attorney with the Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc. (DMRS).
Upon news of the policy’s cancellation, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador, expressed relief.
“We have never accepted to constitute ourselves as what is known as a third country, as a migrant camp to wait for them to resolve in the United States,” said López Obrador without detailing what will happen to the migrants who are still on the Mexican border.
The Mexican president criticized the United States for its delays in approving immigration reform to regulate the almost 11 million undocumented immigrants, of whom about half are Mexicans. He denounced, “There is always opposition to a migration agreement because it is in their interest not to order the migration flow, because that way they have cheap and threatened labor.”
López Obrador insisted on his call to create an agreement to grant more temporary visas. “They need a workforce in the United States and Canada, but they don’t make that decision,” he reproached.
Each year, thousands of people arriving at our border or already in the United States apply for asylum, a form of protection from persecution. Although our immigration laws provide a path for individuals fleeing persecution to seek asylum in the United States, “Remain in Mexico” was designed to make that impossible.
The dismantling of the “Remain in Mexico” policy is one of the steps that Biden’s administration is taking towards removing many of the zero tolerance policies put into place by the previous administration. The policy is only the first step in assuring that asylum seekers are provided safety and resources before continuing their process through the court system, which is often long and grueling.
Kimberly is an undergraduate student majoring in Political Science at UCI. She grew up in a predominantly Latinx community in Southeast LA and is the daughter of two Honduran immigrants. Having seen the obstacles that many immigrants face first-hand has inspired her to pursue a career that allows her to work directly with underserved communities. Making sure that underrepresented stories and voices are heard is important in removing the negative stigma around the immigrant community and she hopes to contribute to this change.