Washington, DC – Since early December, greater than 200 folks hoping to assert asylum within the United States have been despatched again to Mexico to attend for his or her US court docket hearings, a rights organisation stated, underneath a revived widely-condemned Trump-era immigration coverage.
The administration of President Joe Biden had sought to finish the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), saying the programme uncovered migrants and refugees to pointless hazard in Mexico.
But a court docket in Texas ordered the coverage – often known as Remain in Mexico – restarted in August, after Missouri and Texas sued the Biden administration, arguing it terminated the coverage with out following the correct procedures.
In early December, the Biden administration reinstated the programme – with some modifications – in compliance with the court docket’s resolution. At the identical time, it has requested the Supreme Court to permit it to terminate the MPP.
But specialists say the nation’s prime court docket just isn’t anticipated to ship a call earlier than the tip of June, and within the meantime, asylum seekers might be returned to Mexico underneath what immigration advocates have dubbed “Remain in Mexico 2.0”.
Here, Al Jazeera examines what’s going on:
What is the ‘Remain in Mexico’ programme?
Former President Donald Trump, who made proscribing immigration one among his foremost coverage targets, created the MPP to discourage migrants and refugees from making what he deemed “frivolous” asylum claims.
The coverage, which got here into impact in January 2019, compelled individuals who arrive on the border in search of asylum to attend in Mexico for his or her US immigration court docket hearings for months and typically years.
About 70,000 folks, amongst them youngsters, have been compelled to attend in Mexican border cities, typically in harmful and unsanitary refugee camps, because of the coverage. Their entry to authorized counsel was additionally restricted.
MPP was closely criticised by US and worldwide rights teams who stated it violated the US authorities’s obligations underneath each home and worldwide regulation.
What did President Joe Biden do?
Fulfilling a marketing campaign promise, Biden stopped new enrollments into the programme on January 20, his first day in workplace – successfully suspending MPP.
In the next months, his administration started to unwind the coverage by permitting individuals who have been nonetheless ready in Mexico to enter the US to proceed their asylum claims. Starting in February, greater than 25,000 folks have been paroled into the US.
Then, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a memo in June 2021 formally terminating the coverage.
Then what occurred?
In August, Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump-appointed decide, dominated in favour of two Republican-led states that had sued the Biden administration over the “arbitrary” termination of MPP. Kacsmaryk ordered the administration to reinstate the coverage.
The Biden administration appealed the choice to the US Supreme Court, but it surely declined to dam the Texas court docket’s ruling.
So what does that imply for MPP?
The Biden administration stated it might abide by the Texas court docket’s order however that it might proceed to work in the direction of ending the coverage. It later stated it might make the MPP extra “humane”.
Mayorkas issued a second memo to terminate the MPP in October 2021 that addressed the problems raised by the states that had sued. In a 39-page rationalization, Mayorkas stated regardless of contributing to a discount in migrant and refugee arrivals on the border, MPP unnecessarily put folks in hurt’s approach whereas ready in Mexico.
“MPP had endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and did not address the root causes of irregular migration,” Mayorkas stated.
So when did ‘Remain in Mexico 2.0’ come into impact?
The coverage got here into impact on December 6, and the primary two migrants have been turned again to Mexico on December 8.
Is this new iteration of the coverage totally different from the earlier one?
The Biden administration pledged to make counsel extra out there to asylum seekers – simply 9 % of MPP enrollees have been in a position to entry attorneys underneath the earlier model of MPP, in keeping with the Migration Policy Institute – and for instances to be concluded inside 180 days.
Mexico had additionally requested for “particularly vulnerable populations”, together with folks with psychological and bodily disabilities, the aged, these with diseases and LGBTQ folks, to be exempted from the programme.
Have these guarantees been met?
Immigration advocates say no. Yael Schacher, deputy director for the Americas and Europe at Refugees International, attended the primary two days of MPP hearings on January Three and Four in El Paso, Texas. Schacher instructed El Paso Matters, a non-profit media organisation, that solely 5 of 82 folks enrolled in MPP who had their instances heard on these days had entry to authorized counsel.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, coverage counsel on the American Immigration Council, additionally stated “the problem of access to counsel persists”.
He instructed Al Jazeera that the Biden administration “can’t solve the fundamental problem that those who are stuck in northern Mexico with almost no resources and little safety are going to have a very difficult time finding US lawyers to help them with their asylum cases”.
How many individuals have been despatched to Mexico underneath the brand new model of MPP?
In an emailed assertion to Al Jazeera, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated it might not say how many individuals had been returned, or at what border crossings.
But in keeping with information collected by Human Rights First, a US-based rights group coordinating with Mexico’s Institute of National Migration (INM), 217 male adults travelling alone have been returned to Mexico underneath the newest iteration of the MPP between December Eight and January 4.
More than half – 135 folks – have been from Nicaragua, and 46 have been from Venezuela. The different folks despatched again underneath MPP have been from Cuba, Ecuador and Colombia.
It’s been a month since Biden admin restarted Remain in Mexico (MPP). DHS has returned 217 migrants and asylum seekers from Nicaragua (62%), Venezuela (22%), Cuba (7%), Ecuador (6%) and Colombia (3%) underneath this system whereas nonetheless utilizing Title 42 to expel others. @humanrightsfirst pic.twitter.com/aTHfHKyGR6
— Julia Neusner (@JuliaNeusner) January 4, 2022
How does the removing course of work?
Under the brand new model of the coverage, migrants and refugees are briefly held in DHS amenities till they are often interviewed by an asylum officer who will assess their “reasonable” fear of return to Mexico – often called a non-refoulement interview.
If they’re deemed “safe” to return to Mexico, they’re then pushed over the border. The MPP are presently being utilized at two border crossings: El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California. The programme is anticipated to be scaled as much as embrace 5 extra ports of entry.
Once in Mexico, INM officers are charged with taking them to a Mexican government-funded facility, the place they keep till their subsequent US court docket listening to. Mexican officers have been driving MPP candidates backwards and forwards to the border.
What are rights teams saying about this course of?
Rights teams say the non-refoulement interviews are problematic as a result of asylum seekers should not sufficiently knowledgeable of their goal and implications.
“Many people did not know that they had the right to speak with an attorney before their non-refoulement interview about their fear about returning to Mexico,” Julia Neusner, a refugee safety lawyer with Human Rights First who has been monitoring progress of the MPP.
“People didn’t understand what the purpose of the interview was and as a consequence those who had legitimate fear of being returned to Mexico were returned under the programme,” Neusner instructed Al Jazeera, including that a number of candidates who had been beforehand kidnapped or extorted by Mexican police have been enrolled within the programme.
Is the rest totally different in regards to the new coverage?
In the unique programme, solely nationals of Spanish-speaking nations and Brazilians have been included in MPP removals.
The new MPP has been expanded to incorporate all Western hemisphere nationals, excluding Mexico. This signifies that Haitians, together with migrants and refugees from different Caribbean nations, can now be positioned in MPP. This growth was not required by the Texas court docket order.
Is it secure for folks to be despatched to Mexico?
Under the primary iteration of the MPP, and thru February 2021, Human Rights First stated a minimum of 1,544 migrants and refugees within the programme have been killed, assaulted, robbed, kidnapped or raped in Mexico. Many deserted their asylum claims altogether.
The rights group says security issues for migrants and refugees haven’t been resolved.
“There is no conceivable way to make Remain in Mexico safe and humane, let alone lawful,” Kennji Kizuka, affiliate director of analysis and evaluation for refugee safety at Human Rights First, stated throughout a latest digital briefing.
“And given these inherent dangers it is horrifyingly inevitable that there will be more reports of kidnapping and attacks of the people who are now being returned under the newest version of the policy.”