The Biden administration announced Thursday it has struck a deal with the Mexican government to reinstate a Trump-era border policy that forces asylum seekers to stay in that country until their U.S. immigration court date.
The program will restart at one border location on Monday and will eventually involve seven entry points, including San Diego and the Texas cities of Laredo, El Paso and Brownsville, NBC News reported.
The policy was first implemented in 2019 by former President Donald Trump amid an increase in Central American families crossing the southwest border. About 70,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico under the policy since 2019, according to the American Immigration Council.
President Joe Biden suspended the policy on his first day in office, citing the violence migrants faced waiting in Mexico for their court hearings, and formally ended it in June,
But Republican-led states of Texas and Missouri sued the Biden administration in April over the program’s suspension. 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 administration appealed to the Supreme Court which blocked its efforts to end the policy.
Since then, the U.S. has been coordinating with the Mexican government over how to reinstate the controversial program.
“Key changes” will be made to the policy to address humanitarian concerns raised by both the Mexican and U.S. government, the Department of Homeland Security said in a press release.
For instance, the U.S. will aim to conclude immigration court proceedings within six months of an individual’s return to Mexico under the revised policy. Previously, migrants subject to the policy often waited months, if not years, to see an immigration judge.
Adult migrants will be offered the chance to get vaccinated for Covid-19, according to a Department of Homeland Security press release. Inoculations will not be compulsory.
The U.S. will also ensure that migrants subject to the policy have access to legal counsel before and during immigration court hearings, and ensure that there are “safe and secure” shelters available for those staying in Mexico.
These changes address the various “humanitarian concerns” the Mexican government raised over the “Remain in Mexico” policy last week. The government had urged the U.S. to speed up immigration court procedures and provide migrants with additional resources.
“The Government of Mexico reiterates the importance of strengthening development cooperation to address the root causes of migration,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in the press release. “In addition, it reconfirms the goal of administering a migration policy that respects migrants’ human rights to achieve orderly, safe and regular migration in the region.”
In another effort to end the program, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a memo in October that also shared humanitarian concerns about the policy.
He said it imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs” on the thousands of migrants who waited in Mexico and “fails to provide the fair process and humanitarian protections that all persons deserve,” according to the four-page memo.
Mayorkas also noted that migrants sent to Mexico under the policy have been subject to “extreme violence and insecurity” at the hands of transnational criminal organizations.
For instance, there were at least 1,544 publicly documented cases of rape, kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed against individuals sent back under MPP through February 2021, according to Human Rights First. Several people, including at least one child, died after being sent back to Mexico under the policy and attempting to cross the border again.
“‘Remain in Mexico’ and other policies that flout asylum laws and treaties are inhumane and unjust,” Human Rights First said in a press release. “Every day they are in place, they deliver people seeking protection to places where they are targets of brutal attacks and kidnappings perpetrated by deadly cartels and corrupt Mexican officers.”
The return of the “Remain in Mexico” policy comes as the Biden administration faces fierce criticism for its handling of the highest number of migrant encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border in two decades.
Republican lawmakers have slammed Biden for not taking more of a hardline stance to curb immigration, pushing the idea that he is encouraging “open borders” and falsely claiming that migrants are driving the spread of Covid-19.
Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, for instance, told Fox News on Sunday the U.S.-Mexico border remains “as open as it’s ever been.” He called on the Biden administration to immediately re-start the “Remain in Mexico” program.
The administration has also received backlash from progressive Democrats and immigration advocates for not rolling back the harsh immigration policies of the former president.
In particular, they have condemned the Biden administration’s use of a second Trump-era policy known as Title 42. The policy allows for the rapid expulsion of migrants from the U.S. without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum.
In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Title 42 would remain in effect until there is no longer a danger of non-U.S. citizens bringing Covid-19 into the country when they cross the border. Unaccompanied children are exempt from the health law.
The Biden administration has defended its use of Title 42 on several occasions.
Mayorkas has called Title 42 a “Centers for Disease Control public health authority” and not an “immigration policy,” alleging that pandemic conditions justify its use.
“We view it as a public health imperative as the Centers for Disease Control has so ordered,” Mayorkas said in an October interview with Yahoo News.