The Biden administration announced that, starting Thursday, it will no longer enroll asylum seekers newly arriving on the southern border in a Trump-era program that has forced tens of thousands to wait in Mexico for a chance to obtain protection in the United States.
The Homeland Security Department urged anyone currently enrolled in the program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) or colloquially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, to “remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials.”
The agency also advised that migrants now en route to the US will not be eligible for a path to citizenship under the ambitious immigration reform proposal that Biden sent to Congress earlier in the day — an apparent attempt to dissuade them from rushing to the border. (Only those present in the US on January 1, 2021, would be eligible.)
More than 67,000 migrants are currently enrolled, or were previously subject to the program, a number of whom continue to wait in encampments along the US-Mexico border to be called in for their court dates in the US. Before the pandemic, asylum seekers would often have to wait months for a hearing. But in March, the Trump administration suspended all their hearings indefinitely on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wednesday’s announcement, which came alongside a flurry of immigration-related executive orders and the bill sent to Congress, is a signal that the Biden administration is rapidly seeking to undo the Trump administration’s restrictionist policies on the border. The Remain in Mexico program was one of many interlocking policies that, together, made obtaining asylum and other humanitarian protections next to impossible.
Already, the new Biden administration policy has given hope to people subject to MPP who have been waiting in Mexican border cities, where they remain at risk for extortion, kidnapping, and rape at the hands of cartels and other criminal actors. Some have found housing in shelters, hotels, or rooms for rent. But for others, only colorful tents and tarps stand between them and the elements. They continue to rely on volunteers for basic necessities and medical care.
However, although the Biden administration is no longer processing new enrollees in the program, it remains unclear what will happen to people who are already in the program.
“We are looking forward to the next steps the new administration takes to ensure that the people — the children and the families and the adults — brutalized by this program are made whole,” said Karen Tumlin, founder of the Justice Action Center, a legal aid group for immigrants.
As the January 2019 policy memo that created the program could easily be rescinded, the American Immigration Lawyers Association has proposed that the administration grant temporary humanitarian parole to those subject to MPP. This would allow them to enter the US and later apply for more permanent immigration benefits, including asylum. But Biden has yet to elaborate on how he would process MPP asylum seekers.
He had promised on the campaign trail to “surge humanitarian resources” to the border, including asylum officers who could conduct an initial screening of migrants’ claims for protection, and ensure that US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ asylum division takes the lead on processing their cases in order to ease the burden on the immigration courts.