Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
Last fall, the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo announcing the decision to end the Migrant Protection Protocols. These protocols, established in early 2019 by former president Donald Trump, are better known collectively as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Essentially, it forced non-Mexican migrants wanting to enter the United States to stay in Mexico until their court date.
This is consistent with Trump’s anti-immigrant platform—one he touted while running for president and wholeheartedly embraced once in office. He signed executive orders increasing border security and worked to actively undermine asylum, push more people into deportation proceedings, and ban individuals from majority Muslim countries. The MPP is one of a laundry list of items Trump implemented to target and harm immigrants in the United States.
In contrast, at the beginning of his presidency, President Joe Biden formally terminated the MPP program (although he quietly continued some other anti-immigrant Trump-era policies). This move was a response to pressure from immigrant advocacy groups.
However, on Aug. 13, 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas found in Texas v. Biden that the current administration violated federal law because of a technicality based on a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The judge, a Trump appointee, ordered the program to be restored.
Now, the Biden administration is trying to end this horrific piece of legislation for the second time. In late October, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote a memo recommending termination of the program based on the “substantial and unjustifiable human costs” on the migrants forced to remain in Mexico.
The MPP Is a Humanitarian Rights Violation
Mayorkas is right. The human rights violations arising from the MPP are well-documented. Making vulnerable people—who have already endured immense hardship—wait for asylum protection is dangerous. The program began in January 2019, and for the two years it was in effect, almost 70,000 people were left in precarious situations while their cases were pending. Of those 70,000 immigrants—including 16,000 children and 500 infants—almost 2,000 faced documented kidnappings, torture, rapes, and killings. These numbers are very likely an underestimate, and we may never know how many actual violations took place.
Additionally, these migrants rarely have access to humanitarian aid or health services, and they risk being deported to the unsafe country they just fled. The top nationalities of those seeking asylum include Honduran, Guatemalan, Cuban, Salvadoran, and Ecuadorian. Many of these northern Central American countries are among the most dangerous in the world. Roughly 900,000 people in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala alone have fled to neighboring countries or been internally displaced, and not a day goes by without another story in the news about the poverty, starvation, and gang violence that faces the people of these nations. Most of these individuals and families likely have no options left.
Women migrants face additional pressures to flee. Many women leaving this region are fleeing gender-based violence—El Salvador and Honduras have Latin America’s highest rates of femicide, or the gender-based murders of women and girls over 15 years old.
The pandemic has only exacerbated these serious humanitarian rights issues via lockdowns, allowing gangs to exert control over food and medicine and to target people more easily. In addition, many individuals have lost their livelihoods because of the pandemic’s economic impact and faced health issues because of limited access to resources. Now is the time to eliminate the Migration Protection Protocols.
Immigration Has a Positive Effect on the Economy
Along with the moral and ethical obligations argument, immigration helps fuel the U.S. economy—a fact Republicans continue to dispute. Many Conservatives claim immigrants are a drain on resources, but numerous studies show that is not true.
For example, the George W. Bush Institute (created by and named after a Republican president) highlights that when immigrants enter the labor force, it raises the productivity of the economy and increases the nation’s gross domestic product. This is what is known as an “immigration surplus.” One reason is because these workers are far more likely to hold jobs in sectors where native-born Americans choose not to work, like housekeeping or food service. In fact, native-born Americans may choose to stay unemployed rather than work in a repetitive low-wage job, but it is a huge damper to economic growth to have bottlenecks or shortages in these areas.
Additionally, Republicans continue to claim that the MPP stemmed the migration of people without papers, but that is simply not true. In fact, illegal immigration is at a record low, unrelated to the implementation of Trump’s policy. In 2016, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States fell to its lowest level since 2004, long before Trump authorized the MPP in 2019.
The MPP Must Be Overturned
Things are a bit confusing right now in regard to the Migration Protection Protocols. In December 2021, the Biden administration was forced to reinstate the MPP in compliance with the Texas v. Biden decision. However, later that month, President Biden asked the Supreme Court to allow the administration to terminate the program. At the same time, confusingly, it appears Biden is also expanding the program he hopes to terminate. As a consequence, thousands of people remain in limbo and are facing grave danger.
Experts state the Supreme Court will likely not deliver a decision on the MPP before the end of June, leaving thousands of vulnerable people at risk. In the meantime—in another move in this tale of contradictions—the Biden administration has worked to make the program more humane, including increasing legal representation for asylum seekers, sending U.S. humanitarian workers to address conditions at the border, and allowing those in MPP to have access to transportation services at the port of entry.
Amid all of this back and forth, one thing is clear: The MPP must be abolished. It is critical that the Supreme Court decide in favor of Biden’s call to end the program. The request must be pushed through the court system as quickly as possible, and our nation’s highest court must act with humanitarian standards in mind, understanding the impact this program has on human lives and on the economy. It is time to end the MPP policy, once and for all.
Annika Olson is the Assistant Director of Policy Research for the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA) at UT Austin. She received a dual Master’s degree in Psychology and Public Policy at Georgetown University and her Bachelors in Psychology from the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst. Annika previously served as an AmeriCorps member with at-risk youth in rural New Mexico and Austin, Texas. She can be reached through her email: [email protected], Twitter, and LinkedIn.