“Remain in Mexico” Policy on the Chopping Block

On the same day that Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly announced the suspension of new enrollments in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, known colloquially as “Remain in Mexico.” While the program has not folded entirely, the Biden administration’s quick action to stop new enrollments signals that this successful measure enacted by the Trump administration could soon come to an end.

The previous administration established the MPP as one measure to combat the humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border in spring and summer 2019, when border apprehensions eclipsed over 100,000 every month. Even the New York Times remarked that the border was at a “breaking point.” Because of loopholes in our asylum laws, every single asylum-seeking alien apprehended at the border remained in the United States waiting for their day in immigration court.

Due to a growing immigration case backlog, these aliens could wait nearly two full years before appearing before an immigration judge to begin the process of receiving asylum. During those two years, they were free to live in the United States, even getting work permits. For those with especially frivolous claims, disappearing into the interior of the U.S. became an easy option.

The MPP eliminated the incentive to file frivolous asylum claims by eliminating the prospect of waiting in the United States for one’s asylum case to finally come up on the court docket. Instead of simply releasing asylum-seekers into the U.S., our agreement with Mexico kept these aliens in Mexico until the date of their case date in the United States.

This had two main benefits. First, it allowed for aliens to file their asylum petitions in an orderly way that did not overwhelm our immigration system. Second, it prevented aliens from using the asylum loophole as a way to simply gain access into the United States. For aliens who intended to show up for their court dates and navigate through the legal asylum process, it meant they would have to temporarily wait in Mexico. This policy was largely successful, and to date over 70,000 aliens enrolled in the MPPs, with the majority coming in fiscal year 2019.

Ending this program is not in the best interests of the United States. The MPPs alleviate migration pressures on our ports of entry and prevent the disastrous renewal of “catch and release” policies that invited widespread abuse of our asylum procedures. The Biden Administration’s pausing of new enrollments in the MPP is troubling, and seems to indicate that the administration may seek to end the program in its entirety sometime in the near future.