Biden, Mexico reach agreement to restart Trump-era 'Remain in Mexico' program

·3 min read

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Thursday Mexico has agreed to cooperate on restarting the Migrant Protection Protocols policy as long as the U.S. takes key steps to address Mexico's human rights concerns with the controversial, Trump-era program.

The Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the "Remain in Mexico" program, forces asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they await U.S. immigration proceedings. Though the Biden administration is seeking to end the policy, it was forced to restart the program to comply with a court order.

The Department of Homeland Security said it would make humanitarian changes to the program before it is re-implemented, including providing COVID-19 vaccinations for migrants, committing to concluding proceedings within six months of an individual's return to Mexico, and expanding the categories for potential exemption from the program to include particularly vulnerable people like those with physical and mental health challenges.

Migrants will also have access to communicate with counsel before and during immigration court proceedings, according to a DHS statement.

More: Biden said he wanted to end the Trump-era 'Remain in Mexico' policy. So why is he restarting it?

But the revised program will expand eligibility for return to nationals "of any country in the Western Hemisphere other than Mexico."

And the Biden administration will continue to enforce the Trump-era public health order known as "Title 42," which allows border agents to expel asylum-seekers to Mexico without due process to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mexico confirmed the deal in a statement.

"The government of Mexico has decided that, due to humanitarian reasons and in a temporary manner, it will not return to their countries of origin certain migrants who have an appointment before an immigration judge in the United States to seek asylum in that country," the statement read.

The program is expected to begin Monday, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the announcement.

Individuals in MPP will enter the U.S. to attend court hearings through one of four ports of entry: San Diego or the Texas cities of Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso.

President Joe Biden suspended the policy, which was created in 2018 under the Trump administration, shortly after taking office in January and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas terminated the policy in June.

But the administration was forced to restart the program after a federal judge ruled Mayorkas "failed to show a reasoned decision" for ending the program.

The U.S. Supreme Court in August denied a request by the administration to stay a lower court order requiring it to restart the policy – essentially forcing the administration to resume the policy. The Supreme Court ruling did not address the policy’s legality.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he was "deeply concerned" the Biden administration is "overseeing an expansion of this inhumane policy and implementing the court's order before critical safeguards are in place."

Advocates swiftly criticized the announcement and dismissed the administration's attempts at improving the program.

"We categorically reject the Biden administration’s claims that it can administer the Remain in Mexico program in a more humane manner," said Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council.

"By expanding the Remain in Mexico program to nationals from any country in the Western Hemisphere, the Biden administration has made the program even broader than under Trump.."

Contributing: Rebecca Morin, Rafael Carranza

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden to restart Trump-era 'Remain in Mexico' program

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