The Biden administration told the courts late Thursday that it plans to reimplement the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" policy in mid-November if it can get buy-in from the neighboring government.
The move comes after an initial victory by Texas and Missouri in a suit that argued the Biden administration too hastily withdrew the policy, under which the U.S. transported 70,000 asylum-seekers to Mexico to await a determination in their case.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has appealed the case and is working on a memo to rescind the program anew, but it is still required to reimplement what was formally termed the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) “in good faith.”
The announcement follows a series of meetings with high-level officials from the Mexican government.
“Mexico is a sovereign nation that must make an independent decision to accept the return of individuals without status in Mexico as part of any reimplementation of MPP. Discussions with the Government of Mexico concerning when and how MPP will be reimplemented are ongoing,” DHS said in a statement Thursday.
In the court filing the government writes that Mexico “has made clear that it has concerns about aspects of how MPP was previously implemented,” taking pains to stress that much of the program’s future implementation relies on securing Mexico’s blessing.
In a call Thursday, DHS told multiple outlets that it would seek to curb some of the effects of the program as implemented under the Trump administration, which saw many migrants simply give up on their cases after lengthy waits in dangerous refugee camps along the border.
DHS officials said it has a "general commitment" to deciding new asylum cases within six month and plans to construct “tent courts” near Laredo and Brownsville, Texas.
It also plans to expand the types of asylum-seekers who will not be subjected to MPP, but the filing doesn’t provide details on who that would include, such as families with children. Mexico has argued that the sick, elderly, as well as those in the LGBT community, should be exempt from MPP.
Both the vulnerability of those returned and the timing for hearings were issues raised by Mexico, along with a demand the U.S. provide “better coordination” on when migrants would be expelled into the country.
The implementation is a blow to the White House, which suspended the policy on Inauguration Day, as well as advocates that fought to end the policy under the Trump administration.
Advocates have long argued the program is an unacceptable barrier to those seeking asylum in the U.S.
“Restarting any version of the Trump administration’s notorious Remain in Mexico policy will lead to immense human suffering,” Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First, said in a release.
“Trump 2.0 policies at the border are a recipe for continued cruelty, disorder, and violations of refugee law. The Biden administration must honor its promise to terminate this horrific program.”
Others have faulted the administration for taking too long to issue a new memo rescinding MPP — a way to end the program while being responsive to the court.
“The Biden administration has had nearly two months to issue a new memo that addresses the district court’s concerns and formally terminate the MPP program for good. The fact that it has not done so and is instead moving forward with plans to restart the program in November is a betrayal of the president’s campaign promises and a clear sign that this administration is failing to reenvision border management and the way that we treat people who are seeking protection in the United States,” Jorge Loweree, policy direction at the American Immigration Council said in a release.
He stressed that those in refugee camps face dangerous conditions, including the risk of kidnapping.
“The longer the administration delays, the more peoples’ lives are at stake.”
Updated at 11:28 a.m.