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US to Permit Some Asylum Seekers to Return from Mexico

New Program Should Include People Who Missed Court Dates Under Abusive MPP

Clothing hangs to dry at a makeshift migrant camp for asylum seekers in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, on March 1, 2020.  © 2020 Alejandro Cegarra/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Starting next week, asylum seekers currently waiting in Mexico with pending cases before United States immigration courts can sign up to enter the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Those allowed to enter will be given an assigned date to do so.

This change brings the US closer to human rights norms, which require governments not to return those seeking protection to a place where they face a substantial risk of harm. Former President Donald Trump nevertheless returned over 71,000 asylum seekers to Mexico in the last two years of his term as part of the “Remain in Mexico” program, or the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Over that time, an avalanche of evidence buried the notion that waiting in Mexico would be fair and safe for those sent there.

Accounts of kidnapping, rape, and assault of asylum seekers, including children, in Mexico emerged in the first months of the “Remain in Mexico” program. Yet returns expanded to the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where just last month, 13 migrants were killed in a massacre allegedly perpetrated by Mexican security forces.

Many of those sent to Mexico lost their cases when they did not show up at court dates. In 2019, I spoke with two women who had missed their court date because they had been kidnapped with their small children on their way to the US. But these women, like thousands of others, are not covered by the Biden administration’s new plan.

The plan will require entrants to take a Covid-19 test while in Mexico, allow for processing at only a few ports of entry, and make no exceptions for people coming to the port of entry outside of their assigned date. Summary expulsions of other asylum seekers on specious public health grounds will continue.

It’s exciting to know that desperate people who suffered some of the worst abuses of the Trump era may soon breathe a sigh of relief. But all those previously subject to MPP should get a fair shot, including people who missed court through no fault of their own. And each day the Biden administration continues to wrongfully expel asylum seekers under public health authority is another day they are perpetuating and owning one of Trump’s abusive policies.

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