The Department of Homeland Security began the reimplementation of Migrant Protection Protocols in El Paso Monday after a federal judge forced the Biden administration to revive the controversial immigration policy commonly also known as “remain in Mexico.”
The program requires that asylum seekers wait in Mexico for their hearings in United States immigration courts. The policy has been condemned by immigrant advocates as contributing to widespread human rights abuses and due-process violations for vulnerable migrants.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said Monday that the reimplementation of MPP began in El Paso, with a maximum limit of 30 enrollees per day, and will be expanded to other border cities in the days to come.
“DHS is required under the court-ordered injunction to reimplement MPP in good faith and has been taking steps to do so,” the spokesperson said. Once the program is fully operational, asylum seekers will be enrolled for MPP at six other ports of entry: San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, Eagle Pass, Laredo and Brownsville.
President Joe Biden announced the termination of MPP on the day he took office, fulfilling a campaign promise. But a lawsuit filed by Missouri and Texas led a federal judge to rule that the way the program was ended was unlawful. The U.S. Supreme Court in August allowed the judge’s injunction to stand, and the Biden administration’s attempts to appeal the decision have been unsuccessful.
Although the Biden administration has announced that additional measures have been added to make the program less harmful, immigrant advocates in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez reacted to the news with concern, arguing that there is no humane version of MPP.
The Biden administration has also been criticized by immigrant advocates for expanding the scale of the MPP program by making asylum seekers from all Western Hemisphere countries eligible for enrollment.
In Ciudad Juárez, local officials are concerned about shelter capacity –- not just because of added numbers of MPP enrollees at the shelters, but because of misinformation among migrants linked to U.S. policy that contributes to a growing number of asylum seekers at the border.
“Many people at this point are hopeful now that MPP has been reinstated, that at some point the U.S. will open its borders to receive them to request international protection. But that is still not happening, we must be very clear about this,” said Enrique Valenzuela, the general coordinator for the Chihuahua’s State Council on Population, COESPO.
Valenzuela, who works with migrants at the state agency office just steps from the Paso del Norte Bridge in downtown Juárez, said he has already observed an increase in migrant arrivals who believe that the border is becoming more open. He said that MPP is seen as a preferable status to Title 42, another Trump-era immigration directive that has continued during the Biden administration. Under Title 42, migrants are rapidly expelled at the border with no promise of a U.S. immigration court date.
“People under MPP will have the advantage of actually being received by U.S. authorities and being given a notice to appear before a judge to state their case,” Valenzuela said.
Not all MPP enrollees see it as a preferable status. For Jose Luis Alvarado, who has been enrolled in MPP since 2019, the news of MPP reimplementation only brings frustration and confusion.
“If you (the U.S. government) haven’t been able to manage (MPP) until now, how are you going to handle what’s coming?” he asked.
Alvarado is originally from Nicaragua, where he worked as a paramedic. He fled the country because of political persecution after providing medical aid to protesters.
Alvarado has gone to United States immigration court three times to make his case for asylum, only to have his court hearing postponed each time. Since he was first enrolled in MPP, he fell in love with a woman at the shelter and they had a baby together.
For Alvarado, the news of a revived MPP program is just another disorienting turn in the maze that is the U.S. asylum process.
“We have been waiting here for so long and I just can’t see the light,” he said.
Corrie Boudreaux contributed reporting to this story.
Cover photo: Jose Luiz Alvarado, an asylum seeker from Nicaragua, was originally enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols in July 2019 but his court dates were delayed first for administrative reasons and then due to the pandemic. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)