Biden to expand Trump’s controversial ‘stay in Mexico’ immigration policy

During a heated debate last October, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden decided to criticize the Trump administration over a policy that required asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while that their cases were handled by the US immigration courts.

“It is the first president in the history of the United States of America who [said] anyone seeking asylum has to do so in another country, ”Biden said. “This has never happened before in America. … They sit in misery across the river.

The message was greeted with the support of immigrant advocates who have long believed that the policy, known as “Stay in Mexico,” had largely avoided the level of outrage it deserved after more than 60,000 applicants asylum seekers were sent to Mexico as part of a Trump administration plan to deter migration to the southern border. While in Mexico, they were victims of rape, kidnappings and murder, according to groups who have documented the problems. Earlier this year, with great fanfare, Biden brought back many of those same asylum seekers and denounced the policy’s even being introduced.

Now, Biden is set to bring Remain back to Mexico in order to comply with a federal court order in Texas. On Monday, U.S. officials plan to restart the policy, which Biden officials have publicly stressed they oppose, to a single southern border port of entry before it is extended elsewhere.

But as part of that effort, the White House is expanding the number of people eligible to be returned across the southern border to include anyone from the Western Hemisphere other than Mexico. Under Trump, only nationals of Spanish-speaking countries and Brazilians were allowed to be returned to Mexico.

The expansion included in the reintroduced policy allows U.S. border officials to send Haitians to Mexico, which has generally not happened in previous years.

Department of Homeland Security officials have stressed they will continue to rely on Title 42, a public health decree citing the pandemic that allows rapid evictions, for all who are eligible. In September and October alone, the Biden administration returned thousands of Haitians through the public health order.

The inclusion of the entire Western Hemisphere in the new directions took many by surprise.

“It goes beyond the good faith implementation of the court order,” said a former Biden member. “When you add new populations and do that on top of Title 42, you are intentionally implementing a program that you know is largely indistinguishable from the previous one and putting more populations into it. “

The expansion comes as DHS officials continue to see increasing numbers of immigrants from beyond Central America, such as Haiti and elsewhere, to the US border.

“The pieces of the puzzle don’t add up here,” the former official said. “They put in more people than they need for that. “

A senior DHS official said that “the expansion to the entire Western Hemisphere seems to belie the argument that we don’t want to implement the MPP.” Meanwhile, an asylum official told BuzzFeed News it was “disheartening” that the policy was returning with an expanded scope.

“It’s a punch in the gut of those who remained in refugee protection, hoping the worst is behind them,” the official said.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity to allow them full transparency on the matter.

The union representing asylum officers wrote in a statement Friday that the return of the program will make officers “complicit in violations of US federal law and binding international non-refoulement obligations they have sworn to uphold.”

The expansion was not lost on defenders, like Guerline Jozef, head of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, who quickly noticed that the language seemed to include Haitians.

“Instead of working to deliver on its campaign promise of an orderly, safe and humane immigration system, the Biden-Harris administration has chosen to expand MPP Trump’s cruel policies to include all countries in the hemisphere Western, ”she said in a statement.

The Biden administration has highlighted many changes with this version of Remain in Mexico. These include better access to legal representatives, more information about the immigrant program and a faster court hearing process. But perhaps most important will be the practice of customs officials asking questions about whether immigrants fear being returned to Mexico, which was not the case under Trump. Immigrants who say yes will have the opportunity to be screened by asylum officers to prove their claim.

Remain’s return to Mexico dates back to August, when U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ordered the Biden administration to restart the program until it can rescind the policy under the Procedure Act. administrative. His order went into effect soon after, and since then Biden has made plans to restart Remain in Mexico. In the meantime, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has once again written a note quashing the policy in the hopes the courts will do so.

“This administration, however, remains subject to a court order requiring it to reapply the MPP in good faith, which it will respect even if it continues to vigorously challenge the ruling,” DHS said in a statement Thursday.

Under the agency’s new leadership, vulnerable immigrants, such as those with known physical or mental problems or of advanced age, will be exempt from staying in Mexico. An internal government report obtained by BuzzFeed News found that while people with “known physical / mental health issues” were also banned in the Trump version from being returned, border officials still put them on the program. .

The Trump administration implemented the controversial agenda in early 2019 amid an influx of families crossing the border and seeking asylum. At the start of the policy, which was one of a series of others aimed at restricting asylum at the border, the administration recorded more than 100,000 border crossings per month.

Sabrina Teichman, a former DHS official who focused on issues in the Western Hemisphere, said Biden’s expansion of Remain in Mexico created a confusing message.

“It is a very mixed message when the leaders of the United States and Mexico who so strongly oppose the Trump-era stay in Mexico policy reimplement it with an even broader reach that includes migrants from all over. the western hemisphere, ”she said. “The realities on the ground in Mexico for migrants are harsh. Although the reimplementation guidelines include a renewed emphasis on expedited procedures, the reality is that migrants will still wait for months in inhumane and dangerous conditions. “

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