US’ ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy returns
The US has sent the first migrants back to Mexico under the reinstated ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.
The Trump-era policy makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in US immigration court.
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the two migrants were sent to Mexico over a bridge in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
The two were greeted by Mexican officials who provided them with documents, and UN officials gave them coronavirus tests and took them to a shelter.
Mexico has said the US government has agreed to vaccinate all migrants returned under the program.
The Biden administration reinstated the policy to comply with a court order and agreed to changes and additions demanded by Mexico.
Revival of the “Remain in Mexico” policy comes as the Biden administration is trying to end it in a way that survives legal scrutiny.
Biden scrapped the policy initially, but legal action by the states of Texas and Missouri forced him to put it back into effect, subject to Mexico’s acceptance.
The US has pledged to try to complete applications for asylum within 180 days, a response to Mexico’s concerns that applicants will languish in a court system that is backlogged with 1.5 million cases.
About 70,000 asylum-seekers were forced to wait in Mexico, often for months, under the policy that President Trump introduced in January 2019 and which Biden suspended on his first day in office.
Biden’s version expands the policy to migrants from Western Hemisphere countries, while Trump largely limited it to the hemisphere’s Spanish-speaking countries. Mexicans continue to be exempt.
The expansion is especially significant for Haitians, who formed a huge camp in the Texas border town of Del Rio in September. Brazilians, who were largely spared under Trump, may also be heavily affected.
Asylum seekers have been subjected to violence, kidnappings and rape in dangerous, cartel-controlled Mexican border towns, where many were forced to wait in squalid camps for months and even years for their hearings in the US.
Immigrant rights advocates have blasted the “Remain in Mexico” policy, describing it as unlawful and one that puts vulnerable people in dangerous situations.
Human Rights First, a US-based rights group, has documented 1,544 acts of violence against asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico.
“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy was a humanitarian disaster when it was first implemented, and it is doomed to be so again,” the organisation’s spokesperson Eleanor Acer, said in a statement on Thursday.
“A laundry list of improvements cannot fix an inherently inhumane, illegal, unjust, and unfixable policy,” Ms Acer said.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR also expressed concern over the policy’s reinstatement.
“UNHCR was never involved in implementing MPP and will not be supporting the reinstated policy,” the agency said in a statement.