Feb 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to begin allowing migrants forced to wait in Mexico to enter U.S.

Photo of a person laying their head on a railing as they wait in line on a bridge

Asylum seekers wait on the international bridge from Mexico to the U.S. next to the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. Photo: John Moore via Getty Images

The Biden administration will soon slowly begin allowing asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexican border towns under former President Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy to enter the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security announced Friday.

Why it matters: President Biden has promised to end the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols program, as it is formally called, which forced tens of thousands of migrants into dangerous, squalid conditions in Mexico as they awaited court proceedings. DHS estimates that there are about 25,000 migrants in the MPP program who have active immigration court cases.

Details: Beginning Feb. 19, the Biden administration will begin "phase one of a program to restore safe and orderly processing at the southwest border," DHS said.

  • According to administration officials, DHS and the Justice Department will work with the Mexican government and international organizations to identify migrants with active cases and help them virtually register for processing at three yet to be announced ports of entry.
  • Once registered, eligible individuals will be provided additional information about where and when to present themselves, DHS said.
  • At the border, migrants will be tested for the coronavirus before they enter the U.S. If they test positive, they will not be able to cross until they test negative.
  • Once migrants are on U.S. soil, most will be enrolled in "alternative detention," and will be expected to attend scheduled court hearings, according to officials.
    • Of note: The officials did not specify what alternative detention will look like, but said detention centers are not in the picture.
  • The administration is prioritizing people who have had the longest active cases, as well as vulnerable populations. It intends to process around 300 individuals per day at each of the two main ports. Officials did not elaborate on how many migrants will be processed at the third port of entry.

The big picture: The MPP program was implemented in early 2019, when border crossings topped 100,000 per month.

  • Rights groups and many Democrats criticized the policy, saying it forced asylum seekers into dangerous conditions.
  • Biden has already stopped new enrollments in the MPP program.

What they're saying: “As President Biden has made clear, the U.S. government is committed to rebuilding a safe, orderly, and humane immigration system,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a press release Friday.

  • “This latest action is another step in our commitment to reform immigration policies that do not align with our nation’s values. Especially at the border, however, where capacity constraints remain serious, changes will take time," he added.
  • "Individuals who are not eligible under this initial phase should wait for further instructions and not travel to the border.  Due to the current pandemic, restrictions at the border remain in place and will be enforced.”

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