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Court order forces feds to revive Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy

The Biden White House says it will reluctantly reinstate the previous administration’s immigration policy after the Supreme Court refused to lift a federal judge’s injunction.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The United States and Mexico announced an agreement on Thursday to restart a controversial Trump-era immigration rule known informally as the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy.

The Department of Homeland Security said it reached a deal with Mexico to relaunch the Migrant Protection Protocols program, a policy that President Joe Biden suspended on his first day in office and formally terminated in June.

Between the suspension and termination of the MPP, Texas and Missouri sued Biden and DHS officials in April, claiming without the program more undocumented immigrants would remain in their states, increasing their health care, education, social services and law enforcement costs.

In August, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, Donald Trump appointee, ordered that the program be restored following a one-day bench trial. The Fifth Circuit then declined to stay the injunction, as did the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling. The Biden administration's appeal is currently pending before the New Orleans-based appeals court.

The policy, first enacted in 2019 and expected to resume on Monday, requires asylum seekers to wait outside the U.S. while their paperwork is processed as they await court hearings. 

U.S. officials say the MPP reinstatement follows Mexico’s decision to accept individuals who have been returned after attempting to seek refuge in the U.S.

Trump’s administration had sent about 60,000 asylum seekers to Mexico under the policy, alarming immigrant and civil rights advocates.

In January, Human Rights Watch released a report finding that a large number of those who were sent across the border were forced to wait in makeshift shelters. It said many were sexually assaulted, abducted for ransom, extorted and robbed at gunpoint almost immediately after reentering Mexico. 

DHS officials noted in a press release on Thursday that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “has repeatedly stated that MPP has endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration.”

"Our view of the program has not changed," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing on Thursday.

The Biden administration urged a Fifth Circuit panel last month to vacate the district court decision, but in the meantime it said it must reinstate the program to comply with the existing court order.

“Once the court injunction is lifted, MPP will be terminated,” the DHS press release states.

However, several key changes have been made to the policy under the Biden administration. The new version addresses several humanitarian concerns brought forth by the U.S. and Mexican authorities, according to the DHS. This includes an assurance that asylum seekers’ claims will be processed within 180 days and that access to legal counsel will be provided. 

“The U.S. government will work closely with the government of Mexico to ensure that there are safe and secure shelters available for those enrolled in MPP; that individuals returned under MPP have secure transportation to and from U.S. ports of entry; and that MPP enrollees are able to seek work permits, healthcare, and other services in Mexico,” the agency said.

The administration says it will also offer voluntary coronavirus vaccines to asylum seekers in the program at U.S. Border Patrol stations. 

DHS said returns to Mexico will occur at seven ports of entry in San Diego, California; Calexico, California; Nogales, Arizona; El Paso, Texas; Eagle Pass, Texas; Laredo, Texas; and Brownsville, Texas.

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