MIGRANTSBiden Is Restarting the Trump-Era “Remain in Mexico” Program. Why?

By Diana Roy

Published 1 February 2022

Tens of thousands of migrants were sent back to Mexico under the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” program. President Biden calls it inhumane but has been legally forced to resume it.

President Donald Trump created the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, to manage what he saw as an alarming rise in asylum seekers at the southern U.S. border. Critics say the program is inhumane and that it violates U.S. and international law, but courts have blocked President Joe Biden’s attempts to end it.

Why Did Trump Implement the Migrant Protection Protocols?
Trump implemented the program in January 2019, arguing that the U.S. asylum system was at risk of being overwhelmed amid a sharp increase in undocumented migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The program, overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), requires that asylum seekers from most Latin American countries be sent back to wait in Mexico while their cases are processed in U.S. immigration courts. 

This was a controversial reversal of a long-standing practice: U.S. law generally grants asylum seekers the right to remain in the country while their requests for protection are pending. President Barack Obama, whose administration also struggled with unprecedented numbers of Central American migrants, likewise faced criticism for deporting asylum seekers without due process.

In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration closed U.S. borders to “nonessential traffic” and suspended all MPP hearings indefinitely, but it continued deportations. Between January 2019 and January 2021, more than seventy-one thousand asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico under MPP. Many more were stopped at the border under Title 42, an emergency public health regulation that remains in effect, and Title 8, which allows border patrol agents to send back undocumented migrants.

What is Biden’s Approach?
Ending MPP was one of Biden’s campaign pledges, and he temporarily suspended the program in January 2021, pending a review. Shortly after, the administration halted many deportations and stopped accepting new MPP applicants. In June, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced the program’s official termination [PDF], citing its failure to ensure the safety of migrants in Mexico and address the root causes of migration in Central America—a priority of Biden’s immigration agenda