EXPLAINER: What is the new US policy on the Mexican border?
SAN DIEGO — The Biden administration on Monday reinstated a Trump-era policy of making asylum seekers in Mexico wait for U.S. immigration court hearings, seeking compliance with a court order and accepting the modifications and additions required by Mexico.
It started in El Paso, Texas, with up to 50 migrants to be sent back to Ciudad Juarez daily, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because details have not been made public.
The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that returns have begun at one location and will be expanded to six others. He declined to identify the launch city or the number of migrants that will be processed, citing “operational security reasons”.
The relaunch of the “Stay in Mexico” policy comes even as the Biden administration maneuvers to end it in a way that survives legal scrutiny. President Joe Biden scrapped the policy, but a lawsuit by Texas and Missouri forced him to reinstate it, subject to Mexico’s acceptance.
WHAT IS THE “STAY IN MEXICO” POLICY?
About 70,000 asylum seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico for U.S. hearings under the policy that President Donald Trump introduced in January 2019 and Biden suspended on his first day in office.
Illegal border crossings fell sharply after Mexico, facing Trump’s threat of higher tariffs, acquiesced in 2019 to the policy’s rapid expansion. Asylum seekers faced major violence while waiting in Mexico and faced a host of legal hurdles, such as accessing lawyers and case information.
Only 1% of asylum seekers subject to the policy received relief, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. About six of the 10 applications have been denied or dismissed, and the rest are pending.
Only about one in 10 had legal representation, well below average in US immigration court.
Trump administration officials insist the policy was key to deterring illegal crossings. Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s homeland security secretary, said the policy likely contributed to a drop in crossings in 2019, but with “substantial and unjustifiable human costs” for asylum seekers who were exposed to violence while waiting in Mexico. Critics say the policy, officially called “Migrant Protection Protocols”, ignores US law and international asylum obligations, which Trump called a “sham”.
HOW IS ‘REMAIN IN MEXICO’ 2.0 DIFFERENT?
Biden’s version extends the policy to migrants from countries in the Western Hemisphere, while Trump has largely limited it to Spanish-speaking countries in the hemisphere. Mexicans continue to be exempt.
The expansion is particularly important for Haitians, who formed a massive camp in the Texas border town of Del Rio in September. Brazilians, largely spared under Trump, could also be hit hard.
The United States will try to settle the cases within 180 days, a response to concerns in Mexico that it will languish in a backlog of 1.5 million cases.
U.S. authorities will ask migrants if they fear being sent back to Mexico instead of relying on them to raise concerns spontaneously. If migrants express fear, they will be checked and given 24 hours to find a lawyer or representative.
Migrants will also have the opportunity to meet with lawyers before each hearing, according to US officials. The State Department is working with Mexico on locations for video and telephone access to lawyers in the United States
Many US-based legal aid groups that have represented pending asylum seekers in Mexico say they will no longer take such cases. Lawyers are highly skeptical of claims by US and Mexican officials that other lawyers are likely to come forward.
WHAT DOES MEXICO SAY?
Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo, Texas, wrote in his Aug. 13 ruling that reinstating the policy was subject to Mexico’s acceptance. Mexico’s foreign relations secretary said on Thursday he would allow returns “for humanitarian reasons” after changes and additions promised by the Biden administration.
All migrants subject to the policy will be vaccinated against COVID-19. Adults will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one injection. Children who are eligible under US guidelines will receive the Pfizer vaccine, with a second shot when they come to the US for their first hearings.
During the negotiations, Mexican officials expressed concern about the return of migrants to the state of Tamaulipas, a particularly dangerous area across the border with South Texas, the busiest corridor for crossings. illegal. They asked for financial support from the United States for more space in the shelters, but got only vague commitments.
The policy will eventually be extended to six other locations in addition to El Paso: San Diego and Calexico in California; Nogales, Arizona; and the Texas border towns of Brownsville, Eagle Pass and Laredo.
Arrangements to provide transportation to and from the Mexican border are being worked out. Migrants returned to Tamaulipas from Brownsville, Eagle Pass and Laredo may be moved deeper into Mexico for their personal safety.