More than three dozen Democrats have blasted the Biden administration for reviving and expanding the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program that requires migrants who crossed illegally into the U.S. to stay south of the border to await rulings on their asylum claims.
The group, co-led by Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, and Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas, did acknowledge that the program was reinstated by the Department of Homeland Security in response to an order to do so from a federal judge in Texas.
But, they argue, the order doesn’t relieve the Biden administration “from an obligation to reduce the human cost of the program,” the lawmakers noted in a letter to DHS chief Alejandro Mayorkas as well as President Biden himself, CQ Roll Call reported.
The letter, which was signed by 22 other House members and 13 senators, noted that the lawmakers were “particularly disappointed” that the administration included additional nationalities in the program than former President Donald Trump’s program did, including Haitian citizens.
The outlet noted that DHS has also broadened the program to include ports of entry where they say shelters do not have sufficient capacity to hold migrants and where they are only given 24 hours to consult with an immigration attorney before initial court screenings.
“These choices suggest that your administration has made a decision to normalize and expand a cruel ‘deterrent’ policy that fails to actually address the root causes of migration and in fact, led to increased migrant recidivism rates. We ask that you immediately revise the announced expansion to the restart of MPP,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter came on the heels of an announcement by the administration that the program, formally known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” had resumed. It requires migrants who crossed into the country illegally to be returned to Mexico to wait out their cases. Supporters of the former president praised the program for helping to end, at the time, the latest wave of migrant caravans that were inundating the border and overwhelming U.S. immigration personnel.
But thus far, the program has had little impact; according to a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration, just 188 migrants have been returned to Mexico as of Monday, and all of them to Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city across the border from El Paso.
So far this year, since Biden ended the MPP and most of Trump’s other immigration and border enforcement policies, well over a million people have crossed illegally into the U.S.
Nevertheless, in response to restarting the program, DHS also published new guidance aimed at increasing protections for migrants who are returned after the Mexican government raised humanitarian concerns. DHS “pledged to ensure migrants have access to shelters and safe transportation to their U.S. immigration court hearings and provide COVID-19 vaccines and access to counsel,” Roll Call reported.
At the same time, the administration is battling the federal court order that found DHS had insufficiently provided its rationale for ending the program in June, but so far, not so good.
After Mayorkas attempted to end the program a second time earlier this fall, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals swatted it down as well. U.S. Circuit Judge Andrew S. Oldham, a Trump appointee, found DHS “has come nowhere close to shouldering its heavy burden to show that it can make law in a vacuum.”
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