The red states claim if the policy is not revived, they will be burdened with higher costs of fighting human trafficking.
(CN) — Texas and Missouri asked a federal judge Tuesday to order the Biden administration to reinstate a Trump-era policy that forced immigrants to wait in Mexico for adjudication of their asylum cases.
In a lawsuit filed in Amarillo federal court, the Republican-led states claim they will be forced to expend more resources fighting human trafficking if the Migrant Protection Protocols, commonly called the “Remain in Mexico” program, is not revived.
Hours after President Joe Biden took office on Jan. 20, the Department of Homeland Security’s top brass issued a memo suspending new enrollments into MPP. In early February, the new administration started letting small groups of the 25,000 MPP enrollees who still have pending asylum cases enter the U.S. to wait for resolution of their cases.
With the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear a challenge of MPP on March 1, held over from former President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, the Biden administration had the court cancel arguments.
Texas’ Republican leaders claim Biden’s suspension of the program is a major reason why record numbers of immigrants are entering the country.
The Border Patrol said last week it had apprehended 168,195 immigrants on the border in March, including 96,628 single adults and 52,904 family units and 19,000 children traveling, its busiest month for arrests since March 2001.
“By dismantling the MPP, the administration has directly caused a massive uptick in illegal immigration through Central America, Mexico and to the U.S. southern border,” Texas and Missouri claim in the filing.
Texas Attorney General Paxton has his arguments over how illegal immigration hurts the state’s bottom line down pat. He’s cited such statistics in a lawsuit seeking to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program instituted by former President Barack Obama that allows some immigrants to qualify for deferral of deportation and work permits, and others filed in recent weeks over Biden’s attempt to implement a 100-day pause on most deportations and his treatment of immigrants incarcerated on felony convictions.
Paxton’s challenge of MPP is no different.
“The influx of unlawful immigrants with meritless claims of asylum will result in additional unlawful migrants entering and remaining in Texas and Missouri, thus forcing both states to expend more taxpayer resources on health care, education, social services and similar services for such migrants,” the complaint states.
Critics have questioned why Missouri joined the lawsuit, given it is hundreds of miles from the border. The Show Me State says in the complaint it is a destination for human traffickers, including those trafficking Central American immigrants.
“Indeed, St. Louis and Kansas City are major human-trafficking hubs connected by Interstate 70,” the lawsuit states. “As a direct result of the suspension of new enrollments into the MPP, and the corresponding increase in human-trafficking incidents involving vulnerable Central American migrants, both Texas and Missouri will be forced to spend significantly more resources in combating human trafficking,.”
The two states claim Biden’s decision to suspend MPP was unconstitutional and an “arbitrary and capricious” agency action that violates the Administrative Procedure Act. They seek a declaration the memo suspending the program is unlawful and an injunction ordering Homeland Security officials to reinstate the policy.
Trump touted MPP as a way to end what he called the “catch and release” of immigrants coming to the U.S., making meritless asylum claims, then being released in the U.S. to await their court hearings, sometimes for years due to a massive backlog of asylum cases.
The Department of Homeland Security launched the program in January 2019 at the San Ysidro, California, port of entry bordering Tijuana, Mexico, and later implemented it at other sites across the Southwest border. The former president portrayed MPP as a resounding success in reducing the number of people, mainly Central Americans, seeking asylum in the United States, as more than 71,000 immigrants were enrolled it.
Federal courts did not allow the Trump administration to place immigrant children who entered the U.S. without their parents in the program. And the Department of Homeland Security said they would decide on a case-by-case basis who to enroll and would exempt vulnerable people, in particular pregnant women
But in announcing a legal challenge of the program in October 2019, the ACLU of Texas said it had interviewed 18 pregnant women who had been forced into it, including an 18-year-old from Ecuador who was kidnapped in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico, and told she would be killed unless her family paid a ransom.
Many of those turned back and forced to wait in Mexico took shelter in makeshift tent camps near the border where immigrant advocates say they became targets of extortion, kidnapping, robberies and assaults by drug cartels and even Mexican law enforcement.
Despite Texas’ and Missouri’s claims that Biden’s reversal of some of Trump’s hardline-immigration policies is drawing Central Americans to the United States, immigrant advocates don’t see it that way.
Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, said Biden has continued a pandemic-related policy known as Title 42 that Trump instituted last April, under which most immigrants, including asylum seekers, are immediately expelled from the United States.
“At least with Remain in Mexico you had a court date. But with Title 42 you are expelled and you have no access to the asylum system,” Corbett said in a phone interview.
He said the Biden administration has indicated it is going to continue Title 42 as long as it can, with the exception Biden, unlike Trump, is not subjecting children crossing the border without parents to it, but is moving them to shelters and trying to place them with family in the U.S.
“Title 42 has affected more people than were ever affected by Remain in Mexico. Remain in Mexico, it was just 65,000 people,” Corbett said. “But Title 42 we’ve exceeded that amount of people, even just this year since January, since the beginning of the Biden administration, more people have been returned under Title 42 than were returned under Remain in Mexico.”
He added, “It’s hard to argue that Biden is encouraging more people to come to the border because most people are being expelled.”
For those placed in MPP, they are still having to wait patiently to get into the United States and escape the dangers of camps in northern Mexico.
Ruben Garcia, executive director of Annunciation House, a group that runs several shelters for immigrants in El Paso, said in a news conference last Thursday the “unwinding of the MPP has been working incredibly well” and about 140 MPP refugees each day are coming in from Juarez, El Paso’s sister city right across the border in Mexico.