The Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that the controversial Migrant Protection Protocols — commonly referred to as ‘remain in Mexico’ — will be re-implemented in El Paso and other border communities Monday.
The Trump-era program, which requires migrants to await their United States immigration court dates in Mexico, has been denounced by immigration advocates and by President Joe Biden himself as inhumane and contributing to human rights abuses on the border. Biden announced on his first day in office that the program would be ended as he sought to fulfill one of his campaign promises.
“The fact that the Biden administration is moving forward with a restart of Remain in Mexico is deeply disappointing,” said Hannah Hollandbyrd of Hope Border Institute, an El Paso-based humanitarian organization that works with migrants. “MPP was never meant to be a good immigration policy. Its founding purpose was to deter migration through the infliction of cruelty and by denying people access to even basic due process.”
The announcement comes in response to a court order forcing the Biden administration to restart the program, after Texas and Missouri sued the Biden administration for unlawfully terminating it in spring 2021. The court order was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in August in a “shadow docket” ruling, one that does not include the typical process of briefs, oral arguments and lengthy opinions.
The DHS said it will make efforts to mitigate humanitarian concerns as it restarts the program.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has repeatedly stated that MPP has endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration,” the agency said in a press release.
The changes made to the program will include a commitment to COVID-19 vaccines for all MPP enrollees, improved access to information for migrants, exceptions for people deemed “particularly vulnerable,” and a six-month time limit for migrants waiting in Mexico.
Linda Rivas, executive director of El Paso nonprofit Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy, said the six-month time limit is “terrifying” from a due process perspective.
“There’s no security, even physical integrity (for migrants in Mexico). Where are they going to stay, sleep, eat? And then to have to prepare an asylum case in less than six months? That’s impossible,” she said. “It just goes to show there’s no way to do MPP the right way.”
In Ciudad Juárez, migrant shelters are already strained beyond their capacity as a result of the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border through Title 42, another controversial Trump-era immigration practice that has continued during the Biden administration. The policy allows federal agents to immediately expel asylum seekers under current health laws in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Karina Breceda, former shelter director at the San Juan Shelter in Ciudad Juárez, now volunteers as part of local mutual aid groups to find housing for migrants in the border city. She said Juárez shelters are constantly scrambling to try to find a place for migrant families.
“I can’t sleep at night,” she said, describing stress over ongoing capacity issues. Breceda is currently working on creating a new Juárez shelter for COVID positive migrants, but is still short on funding. She hopes to open the new space by January.
“There needs to be more communication within the community,” she said. “Because we can’t wait for Washington or Biden or anybody else to fix this dignity and human life issue from one day to the next.”
Cover photo: Everilda, 27, a migrant from Guatemala, sits with her 2-year-old daughter in a shelter in the outskirts of Juárez, where migrant shelters are already filled beyond capacity. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)