US’ ‘Remain in Mexico’ asylum policy axed
The US Supreme Court gas given the Biden administration the go-ahead to scrap the much-reviled ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy which makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico during hearings of US immigration courts.
The end of the policy, a leftover from the Trump-era, is being hailed as a victory for a White House which still faces the issue of the growing number of people seeking refuge at America’s southern border.
A centrepiece of the Trump administration’s border policies, the program enrolled about 70,000 people after it was launched in 2019.
President Biden suspended the policy, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols on his first day in office in January 2021. But lower courts ordered it reinstated in response to a lawsuit from Republican-led Texas and Missouri.
Another Trump-era policy that remains in effect and was not a part of Thursday’s ruling allows the government to quickly expel migrants without a chance to ask for asylum on grounds of containing the spread of COVID-19.
There have been more than two million expulsions since the pandemic-era rule, known as Title 42 authority, was introduced in March 2020.
In May, a federal judge in Louisiana prevented the Biden administration from halting Title 42, in a case that may ultimately reach the Supreme Court.
Reports say the heart of the legal fight in the immigration case over the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy was about whether US immigration authorities, with far less detention capacity than needed, had to send people to Mexico or whether those authorities had the discretion under federal law to release asylum-seekers into the US community while they awaited their hearings.
The Department of Homeland Security said it welcomed the ruling and that it will “continue our efforts to terminate the program as soon as legally permissible”.
In a statement, it said that it continued to enforce Title 42 and “our immigration laws at the border and administer consequences for those who enter unlawfully”.
Experts says the Biden administration does not need to take any further action to end the policy, but Texas and Missouri can pursue a challenge over whether the administration followed appropriate procedure in ending the program.
In a dissenting judgement conservatives judges Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito wrote that the practice of releasing “untold numbers of aliens” into the United States “violates the clear terms of the law, but the court looks the other way.”
Republican state politicians in border states have criticised the decision but since December, the administration has registered only 7,259 migrants in ‘Remain in Mexico’ while US authorities have stopped migrants 1.2 million times on the Mexico border.
About 60 per cent of people in the program are Nicaraguans. The Biden administration has said it would apply the policy to nationalities that are less likely to be subject to the broader Title 42 policy. Strained diplomatic relations with Nicaragua makes it extremely difficult for the US to deport people back to their homeland under Title 42.
Refugee advocates acknowledged that a relatively small number of asylum seekers arriving on the south west border are affected by the MPP program but have supported the decision.