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

However, Missouri and Texas challenged the decision [PDF] in a Texas district court, which ruled that the Biden administration failed to properly justify the termination under federal regulations. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, which stated that DHS must work “in good faith” to reinstate MPP until the department both complies with those regulations and expands the government’s capacity to lawfully detain migrants in the United States. MPP formally restarted in December 2021 following negotiations with the Mexican government over proposed changes.

Under the revised program, the Biden administration pledged to increase migrants’ access to medical care and legal aid, as well as expand the list of vulnerable populations exempt from MPP. It also committed to resolving cases in six months or less, which many analysts say is unlikely given the large and growing backlog in U.S. immigration courts.

Why Does It Matter?
The program is at the center of the debate over how to deal with increasing numbers of asylum seekers, a challenge that has now troubled three consecutive U.S. presidents. Trump and other supporters of MPP have claimed that it deters migration, while the Texas lawsuit argued that disbanding the program would increase human trafficking and overburden local and state services.

However, many policymakers and migrant rights activists counter that the program worsens trafficking and forces migrants into dangerous and overcrowded shelters in Mexico. Rights groups also criticize the lack of access to legal counsel for migrants and say that knowingly sending asylum seekers back to unsafe countries violates U.S. and international law. Additionally, the program had significant repercussions for Mexico’s government, which gave in to pressure from Washington to accelerate deportations of Central American migrants back across the country’s southern border with Guatemala. 

Meanwhile, increased migration worldwide has sparked debates about similar policies elsewhere. Australia and Denmark, for instance, both process asylum seekers in third countries, while the United Kingdom is currently considering such an approach.

What Comes Next?
One lawsuit challenging MPP during the Trump administration was heard by the Supreme Court but dismissed following the program’s initial termination under Biden; others are pending.

And the legal wrangling is far from over. After lower courts blocked a second attempt to terminate the program in October 2021, the Biden administration petitioned the Supreme Court to reconsider. If the court agrees to hear the case, a decision could come before summer; in the meantime, Biden has to continue enforcing a program he campaigned against.

Diana Roy is Assistant Writer/Editor, Latin America, at CFR. This article is published courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).