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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

Updated 28 mins ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.