'Stay in Mexico' programme reinstated 'Stay in Mexico' programme reinstated 

US Bishops reiterate call for ending Migrant Protection Protocols

The lead bishop on Migration of the US Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) expresses concern over the reimplementation of “the Remain in Mexico” policy, the border processing programme introduced by the Trump Administration to deter migrants from reaching the U.S. southern border. On December 2, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) would restart on December 6 following a new agreement with Mexico.

By Lisa Zengarini

Bishops in the United States are strongly urging the Biden Administration to take all necessary action to end the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and replace it with an approach that respects human dignity. The call was made following the reimplementation of the controversial policy which started on December 6.

MPP, also known as 'Remain in Mexico', was introduced in January 2019 by the Trump Administration with the aim to deter migrants from reaching the U.S. southern border. The programme allows U.S. authorities to send undocumented migrants, many whom asylum seekers, back to Mexico to wait out the duration of their U.S. immigration court proceedings.

The new agreement with Mexico

President Jo Biden announced its suspension on his first day in office and, on 20 January 2021, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officially ended it. However, a subsequent ruling by a federal district court annulled the provision. While appealing against that ruling, the Biden Administration has reached an agreement with the Mexican government to reimplement the program as established by the court, with some adjustments to improve it.

The reimplementation took effect on Monday at one border crossing and eventually will be rolled out across the entire southwest border. The new version extends eligibility to be enrolled in MPP to migrants from all countries in the Western Hemisphere. During the last iteration, Mexico accepted migrants only from Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil, which notably excluded Haitian migrants, thousands of whom were forcefully removed from the Texas border in late September by US border patrol agents.  

Also, MPP applicants will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine so they may re-enter the US to attend their hearings. Moreover, the United States have committed to complete individual MPP court cases within six months providing migrants with greater access to legal aid and more information about their situation. The DHS has also promised to exempt some categories of vulnerable individuals from 'Remain in Mexico'.

Use of Title 42  to expel asylum seekers

These changes are considered to be unsatisfactory by the US bishops who have reiterated their strong opposition to the policy as well as to the ongoing use of Title 42 of the US Code to expel asylum seekers and other vulnerable migrants, bypassing normal immigration proceedings and skirting due process protections. § 265 of the Code containing the regulations to prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of transmissible diseases from foreign countries, was enforced by the Trump Administration after the outbrek of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to be applied to migrants by the Biden Administration.

The programme's shortcomings

“Unfortunately, attempts by the Administration to make this program more humane’—however well intentioned—will not cure its inherent faults, nor will they alleviate its inevitable toll on human lives”, Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, chairman of the Committee on Migration of the US Bishops’ Conference  wrote in statement. “We are especially concerned that this will perpetuate the existing tragedy of family separation, since many mothers and fathers are likely to feel compelled to part ways with their children in a desperate attempt to ensure their safety”.

Humane solutions needed

Recalling Pope Francis’ appeal for leaders to find humane solutions for migrants on the First Sunday of Advent, bishops have therefore renewed their call on US Government “to take all necessary action to end MPP and replace it with an approach that respects human dignity, exemplifies our national values, upholds the rule of law, and embraces Christ’s call to welcome the newcomer.”

Some 68,000 MPP applicants 

During MPP’s two-year lifespan, some 68,000 migrants seeking protection were forced to remain in Mexico pending their U.S. immigration court hearings. More than 32,000 were ordered removed, nearly 9,000 had their cases terminated, and only 723 were granted asylum or some other kind of immigration relief. The remaining 27,000 still had pending cases in U.S. immigration court when the Biden administration announced the suspension of MPP in January 2021. Many migrants with pending cases had not had a hearing since at least March 2020, when MPP hearings were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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07 December 2021, 12:40