Over 240 advocacy groups urge Biden to end Trump-era migrant policies, restart asylum

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Under MPP, non-Mexican migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border are sent back to Mexico while their asylum cases are processed in US courts. (Getty images)

More than 240 migrant advocacy organizations have urged US President Joe Biden to make good on his campaign promise to terminate Trump-era border policies that block or reduce access to asylum in the United States.

Recently, the Biden administration began implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “remain in Mexico,” after a federal appeals court ordered its reinstatement in response to a lawsuit.

Biden had decried the policy on the campaign trail and vowed to repeal it. He suspended MPP soon after taking office in January this year. In June, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas signed a memo terminating the program, calling it ineffective.

Republican officials in Texas and Missouri, however, sued the administration over the termination and a federal judge ruled the policy had to be reinstated. The Supreme Court denied a request for the program to remain suspended while the case was appealed.

The other policy put in place by former President Donald Trump and ultimately kept in place by Biden is known as Title 42. It allows US agents to rapidly expel migrants detained at the US border during the COVID-19 pandemic without giving them a chance to seek asylum.

In a letter addressed to Biden and other top officials on Friday, more than 240 human rights, civil rights, refugee aid, and immigration organizations said the policies violate US law and international treaty obligations.

“It is disheartening to find ourselves at the end of 2021 still without any meaningful way for families and individuals fleeing persecution to seek US protection,” said Robyn Barnard, senior advocacy counsel of Human Rights First.

“The Biden administration’s continuation of Title 42 and expansion of ‘Remain in Mexico’ are endangering lives and creating a humanitarian disaster at our border. The administration must take immediate steps to end their use of these inhumane and unlawful policies, and restart asylum in compliance with US and international law,” he added.

Under MPP, non-Mexican migrants caught crossing the US-Mexico border are sent back to Mexico while their asylum cases are processed in US courts. Advocacy groups criticized the restart, saying the program is inhumane and exposes migrants to kidnaping and other harms in dangerous border towns.

The Biden administration then expanded the “remain in Mexico” policy to apply to all migrants from the Western Hemisphere when the program resumed in early December.

Human Rights First interviewed 16 returned migrants and found most said they were never informed of their right to speak with a lawyer while in US custody.

In a report released on Thursday, the advocacy group also said administration officials failed to deliver on the promise to add new humanitarian protections to MPP, including health screenings and access to COVID-19 vaccines.

UN expresses concern

The United Nations also sounded the alarm on Friday over the reinstatement of the remain in Mexico program.

“We are concerned about the re-implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocol and the risk that it poses on the already stretched humanitarian capacity of Mexico to receive migrants,” UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

“We are concerned that any kind of heightened security procedures to deal with migration will only drive migrants further into unsafe routes and we are afraid that we will see more resort to the dangerous routes and to smuggling networks.”

The White House said the administration was still opposed to the policy, but that it was required to comply with the court-ordered reinstatement "in good faith."

As of Thursday, 161 migrants had been sent back to Mexico since the Biden administration began implementing the remain in Mexico, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). All returns took place in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.


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