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Migrants sit against a fence while waiting to board a Border Patrol bus. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

President Biden will start turning asylum seekers back to Mexico as soon as next week under a reinstated Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" program — but will offer them the option to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Under court orders, the president will officially undo a key immigration promise, which will force asylum-seekers to wait months in Mexico ahead of their immigration court hearings in the U.S. — as long as Mexico accepts them.

  • One difference from the program under former President Trump's administration: All migrant adults enrolled in "Remain in Mexico" will be offered the vaccine, although it can't be required, according to two government immigration officials.
  • It's unclear at what point in the process the migrants would be able to get their shots, whether before being turned back, when they return to the U.S. for their court hearing or at some other time.
  • The policy, formally called the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), will first be reinstated in El Paso and Brownsville, Texas, as well as San Diego, California, one DHS official said.

Yes, but: Timing has been in flux, and the administration is ultimately at the mercy of Mexico's cooperation.

  • “In compliance with the court order, we are working to reimplement MPP as promptly as possible,“ DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa told Axios.
  • ”We cannot do so until we have the independent agreement from the Government of Mexico to accept those we seek to enroll in MPP.  We will communicate to the court, and to the public, the timing of reimplementation when we are prepared to do so.”

What to watch: Vulnerable populations are expected to be exempted. It's unclear who will fall under that category, or how border officials will decide who gets placed in the program.

  • The effectiveness of the policy will continually depend on Mexico's willingness to accept the migrants turned back.
  • Two sources familiar with internal discussions also highlighted concerns about migrants who would be forced to travel through Mexico in the middle of the night, so they can be on time for early morning court hearings.
  • The administration is trying to address this safety concern ahead of MPP courts reopening later on.

The big picture: A federal court ordered the administration to restart MPP not long after it was ended.

  • Immigration officials have been divided over the program.
  • Some think a revamped version would be helpful with higher-than-normal border flows, while others want nothing to do with the program that had been plagued with humanitarian concerns.
  • While the administration has been preparing to restart MPP, it's also made a second attempt at ending it.

What they're saying: One administration official noted that they have long said they will both comply with the court order, while simultaneously appealing the decision.

Go deeper

Dec 3, 2021 - Podcasts

Trump’s "Remain in Mexico" policy is back

The Biden administration has reached a deal with Mexico to restart the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program, also known as the Migrant Protection Protocol at the border. Starting Monday, asylum seekers will once again have to wait outside the U.S. while their claims are processed.

  • Plus, Mike Allen wraps up the week in politics.
  • And, the new trend of IV treatments at spas.

Guests: Axios' Stef Kight, Mike Allen and Jennifer Kingson.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, David Toledo and Jayk Cherry. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at podcasts@axios.com. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison

An anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar.Photo: Hkun Lat/Getty Images

A Myanmar court sentenced the country's ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Monday to four years in prison on charges of "inciting public unrest" and breaking COVID-19 protocols, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's the first of several verdicts that could result in the 76-year-old Nobel laureate being imprisoned for the rest of her life.

3 hours ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to migrants and asylum seekers during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"