After weeks of speculation, the Biden administration has officially reinstated the controversial, Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ US immigration policy. Rumours that the policy would be reinstated have been rife, and despite previously describing it as ‘inhumane’, Biden has reintroduced the rule in an effort to stem the flow of Central American migrants.
The US and Mexican governments agreed to resume the controversial program, first put in place by former US President Donald Trump in 2019, after it was previously suspended when Biden first took office. It’s understood that the policy will initially apply to migrants arriving at US borders in San Diego and the Texas cities of Laredo, Brownsville and El Paso.
The controversial policy forces asylum seekers looking to enter the US from its southern border to wait in Mexico while their US immigration claims are assessed. Under the Trump administration, more than 60,000 asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico after crossing the US border.
Left waiting for months
Many people were left vulnerable to criminal gangs, while thousands were left in limbo, waiting months in Mexico as their cases were adjudicated.
Back in October, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the Remain in Mexico policy ‘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 immigration to the US.
However, the Biden administration was sued by Republican officials representing the states of Texas and Missouri, in an effort to stop the US President from scrapping the return of the policy. The officials argued that abolishing the policy would ‘place an undue burden on their states from incoming immigrants’.
Supreme Court ruling
The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Missouri and Texas, and placed an injunction on the federal government back in August, forcing the Biden administration to reinstate the program. Following the ruling, federal officials have been negotiating with their Mexican counterparts to resurrect the scheme.
Under the terms of the reinstated deal, asylum seekers arriving alone at the US southern border will be made the primary focus of removals. However, those transferred will be offered COVID-19 vaccinations. According to a report published by The Washington Post, Mexico will accept asylum seekers from Spanish-speaking countries.
It’s understood that the US will aim to give a decision on asylum claims within 180 days, amid fears among applicants that they will be left languishing in Mexico. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is understood to be assigning 22 US immigration judges to work specifically on asylum claims made by people arriving at the US southern border.
Supporters of the Remain in Mexico policy argue that it will help to reduce the flow of migrants into the US. However, US immigration advocates claim that there is very little evidence to support this theory, and highlight the dire humanitarian crisis that the program has exacerbated at the border.
Sprawling tent camps
Advocates argue that those removed from the US often end up in sprawling tent camps or sub-standard housing in Mexican towns like Tijuana and Reynosa, which often lack the basics in terms of food and amenities for asylum seekers.
US human rights group, Human Rights First, claimed that more than 1,500 people subjected to the Remain in Mexico scheme have been kidnapped or attacked. Thousands more have also been targeted after being cast out of the US by another controversial Trump policy known as Title 42, which ejects migrants on the grounds of public health concerns.
Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said: “President Biden and his administration must stop implementing Trump policies that endanger the lives and safety of people seeking refuge in the United States.”
“Remain in Mexico and other policies that flout asylum laws and treaties are inhumane and unjust. Every day they are in place, they deliver people seeking protection to places where they are targets of brutal attacks and kidnappings perpetrated by deadly cartels and corrupt Mexican officers,” she added.
Private immigration detention facilities
In addition to criticism for reinstating the Remain in Mexico policy, the Biden administration has also been blasted by refugee advocates for the rising number of migrants being held at private US immigration detention facilities, despite the President promising to abolish private, for-profit facilities.
However, Biden has exempted US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from this promise, and the number of immigrants in detention has nearly doubled to 29,000 since he took office.
Setareh Ghandehari, advocacy director for Detention Watch Network, told The Washington Post: “Frankly, it’s infuriating. It’s incredibly disappointing. We really expected more.”
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