The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that it has ended a Trump-era policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court, hours after a judge lifted an order, in effect since December, that the so-called Remain in Mexico rule be reinstated.
The timing had been in doubt since the U.S. supreme court ruled on 30 June that the Biden administration could end the policy.
Homeland security officials had been largely silent, saying they had to wait for the court to certify the ruling and for a Trump-appointed judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, in Amarillo, Texas, to then lift his injunction.
The supreme court certified its ruling last week and critics of the policy had been increasingly outspoken about the Biden administration’s reticence on Remain in Mexico, calling for an immediate end to it.
“It’s a zombie policy,” Karen Tumlin, founder of Justice Action Center, an immigration litigation organization said.
The program now will be unwound in a “quick, and orderly manner,” DHS said in a statement. No more people are being enrolled and those who appear in court will not be returned to Mexico when they appear in the U.S. for their next hearings.
The policy “has endemic flaws, imposes unjustifiable human costs, and pulls resources and personnel away from other priority efforts to secure our border,” the department said.
Many questions remain, including whether those whose claims have been denied or dismissed will get a second chance or if those whose next court dates are months away will be allowed to return to the U.S. sooner, where many immigration courts are struggling with backlogs and staff shortages. DHS said it will provide additional information “in the coming days.”
About 70,000 migrants were subject to the policy, known officially as Migrant Protection Protocols, from when Donald Trump introduced it as president in January 2019 until Joe Biden suspended it on his first day in office in January 2021, fulfilling a campaign promise.
Many were allowed to return to the United States to pursue their cases during the early months of Biden’s presidency, often from squalid, dangerous, ad hoc camps or strained shelter accommodation in towns a short distance over the border into Mexico.
Then it was reinstated and migrants fleeing to the U.S. once again were halted at the border and made to stay out of the United States.
This together with a policy of routine expulsions at the border under a heavily criticized pandemic rule ostensibly to curb COVID-19, known as Title 42, has driven thousands to make unauthorized crossings, often repeatedly, and with deadly results for some – succumbing to botched smuggling businesses, the swirling waters of the Rio Grande in Texas or the desert there and further west.
Nearly 5,800 people were subject to the policy from December through June, a relatively modest number. Nicaraguans account for the largest number, with others from Cuba, Colombia, and Venezuela.
Trump made the policy a centerpiece of border enforcement, which critics said was inhumane for exposing migrants to extreme violence in Mexico and making access to attorneys far more difficult.