Remain in Mexico Restart Threatens Safety of Attorneys and Humanitarian Workers
The Biden administration is taking steps to restart the Trump administration “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially dubbed the “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP),” an illegal and deadly program that threatens the lives and safety of asylum seekers and migrants forced to remain in Mexico as well as the attorneys and humanitarian workers who assist them. After the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) terminated the unlawful program in June 2021, it announced that it would restart MPP after a federal court held that the termination of MPP violated the Administrative Procedure Act. Months later, on October 29, 2021, DHS issued a second memorandum providing a fuller explanation for the decision to terminate MPP, which discussed the horrific harms suffered by asylum seekers and migrants in MPP and acknowledged the dangers faced by attorneys as a result of representing people returned to Mexico under MPP. The administration subsequently filed a motion in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the district court judgment. Nonetheless, DHS continues to take steps to re-implement MPP, including rebuilding the tent courts used for MPP hearings on the border.
Any restart of MPP would threaten the safety and lives of attorneys and humanitarian workers, as non-governmental organizations have repeatedly warned the administration. During the two years that the Trump administration operated MPP, U.S. based attorneys were threatened with kidnapping and violence in connection with their representation of people in MPP. Legal and humanitarian organizations assisting asylum seekers expelled under the illegal Title 42 policy have similarly reported serious risks to their staff. Human Rights First has repeatedly documented the brutal violence and dangers suffered by asylum seekers and migrants who were returned to Mexico under MPP and the Title 42 policy and deliberately targeted by cartels and corrupt Mexican government agents and officials. This violence also endangers lawyers and humanitarian workers assisting asylum seekers to request protection in the United States. Indeed, cartels that target asylum seekers see this legal and humanitarian work as undermining cartels’ ability to exploit migrants at the border.
In October 2021, over 60 border-region advocates and legal service providers walked out of a virtual briefing with Biden administration officials in protest of its decision to restart MPP. The statement they read during the walk out decried the inhumanity and illegality of MPP and explained that reinstating MPP would “send people to their death.” Days later, legal service providers, law school clinics, and law firms wrote to the Biden administration condemning its decision to restart MPP and stating that it is not “just for this administration to continue to force U.S. lawyers and humanitarian staff to risk their safety due to the failure of this administration to take swift action to uphold U.S. refugee laws and treaties.”
MPP Forces U.S. Attorneys and Humanitarian Workers to Travel to Regions in Mexico that the U.S. Government Warns its Citizens to Avoid
Under MPP, the Trump administration returned asylum seekers and migrants to Mexican border states at the same time that the U.S. Department of State advised U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to these regions due to a high risk of kidnapping and violence. The State Department has designated the border state of Tamaulipas – where tens of thousands of individuals were delivered to danger under MPP – as a “Do Not Travel” region, the same threat level assigned to warzones like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. It also warns that citizens should “reconsider travel” to the border states of Chihuahua and Baja California, where tens of thousands of individuals were also returned under MPP, due to kidnapping and crime.