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“Carmen S.” holds her son, 3, at a shelter where they were staying in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, May 2019, after being returned to Mexico under the Trump administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Carmen told Human Rights Watch that she was thinking of trying to cross illegally but was afraid of losing her children. © 2019 Clara Long/Human Rights Watch

On January 25, 2019, US President Donald Trump and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador began the “Remain in Mexico” or MPP (Migrant Protection Protocols) program. Under it, US border officials return non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait for months or years in dangerous locations in Mexico while their claims are adjudicated in US immigration courts. From January 2019 to January 2021, the Trump administration sent more than 71,000 asylum seekers, including tens of thousands of children and people with disabilities or chronic health conditions, to Mexico under the program.

Since the start of "Remain in Mexico” asylum seekers returned to Mexico have been put at risk of kidnapping, extortion, and rape; have been denied access to basic services like health care and education; and have had their right to seek asylum in the United States systematically violated. The “Remain in Mexico” program has also compounded existing failings in US immigration courts, including a lack of access to counselbarriers to legal representationlack of transparency in immigration proceedings, and limited legal protections for asylum seekers. “Remain in Mexico” was a fundamental part of the Trump administration’s efforts to eviscerate the US asylum system, violating US and international refugee law and practice.

President Joe Biden campaigned on the promise that his administration would end former President Trump’s “detrimental asylum policies” in the first 100 days “starting with Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols.” In February 2021, shortly after Biden took office, he began to allow limited numbers of asylum seekers in the program enter the United States. In June 2021, he officially terminated “Remain in Mexico.” President Biden called the program “dangerous” and “inhumane,” and a Department of Homeland Security memorandum explaining the government’s decision acknowledged its “endemic flaws,” and “unjustifiable human costs.”

However, in December 2021, the Biden administration claimed it was compelled to restart the program due to a federal court order but that it would do so with “improvements.” These include promises to resolve most asylum cases within six months, ensure that asylum seekers have access to counsel, and ensure that “particularly vulnerable individuals” will not be enrolled in the program. Both the United States and Mexico committed to some of these same promises under the first iteration of the program but failed to keep them. President López Obrador, while not bound by US court decisions, nonetheless agreed to restart the program and has defended it.

The gravity of the human rights abuses that have occurred as a result of “Remain in Mexico” has prompted significant investigations, appeals for legislative action, and court challenges by many civil and human rights organizations throughout the United States, Mexico, and the region. These include:  


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