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The Biden administration Tuesday formally ended a policy enacted by the Trump administration that forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard in an American immigration court.
In a seven-page memo obtained by the Associated Press, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the Migrant Protection Protocols Program — the formal name for the so-called “remain in Mexico” policy — “does not adequately or sustainably enhance border management in such a way as to justify the program’s extensive operational burdens and other shortfalls.”
Mayorkas stated that approximately 68,000 people were affected by the policy, which was implemented by then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in January 2019.
Critics of the program argued that asylum claimants were hampered by violent conditions in Mexico, lack of access to lawyers and difficulty making it to court. Mayorkas acknowledged those concerns by noting that according to DHS data, 44 percent of asylum claims under the program were denied due to failure to appear in court.
Mayorkas concluded that keeping the “Remain in Mexico” program in place would “not be consistent with this Administration’s vision and values and would be a poor use of the Department’s resources.”
In its place, Mayorkas touted a so-called “Dedicated Docket” announced Friday that would expedite asylum hearings for families arriving at the US-Mexico. According to a joint statement by DHS and the Department of Justice, Immigration judges would generally decide such cases within 300 days of an initial hearing in 10 cities: New York, Newark, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Biden promised to terminate the “Remain in Mexico” program during his presidential campaign and ordered its suspension on his first day in office, but left a window open by ordering a review before shutting it down permanently.
Since Feb. 19, about 11,200 people with active cases have been allowed to return to the United States to wait for a ruling, a process that can take years in the backlogged court system. The administration has yet to say if tens of thousands more whose cases were either dismissed or denied will get another chance.
Republicans were outraged by Mayorkas’ decision Tuesday, with Rep. John Katko (R-NY), calling it “a very serious mistake.”
“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy was a critical tool for border patrol agents to manage the influx of migrants flooding into our country,” Katko, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement. “Once again, the Biden Administration has forced our frontline border security professionals to manage the mess it made with no choice but to catch-and-release tens of thousands of migrants into the interior of our country.”
“Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance, who recently launched an exploratory committee for a potential Senate run next year, tweeted that the reversal of the policy was “idiotic.”
“‘Remain in Mexico’ was one of the smartest immigration policies of the last 30 years,” Vance wrote. “A president who cares about his own people dying of fentanyl overdoses doesn’t do this.”
The White House has largely kept in place pandemic-related powers introduced by President Donald Trump in March 2020 to expel people to Mexico without an opportunity to seek asylum, justified on grounds of protecting public health. Mayorkas acknowledged planning for those pandemic-related powers to be lifted but was light on specifics.
With Post wires
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