The United States has formally ended the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forced tens of thousands of Central American asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for US court cases, according to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo (PDF) sent to agency leaders on Tuesday.
The administration of President Joe Biden paused the programme, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), shortly after he took office on January 20. Since then, more than 11,000 migrants enrolled in it have been allowed to enter the US to pursue asylum claims, a DHS official told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.
Biden has reversed many of the restrictive immigration policies of former President Donald Trump, saying Trump failed to honour US asylum laws. Republicans have criticised Biden’s actions, including ending the MPP programme, saying he encouraged an increase in migrant arrivals at the US-Mexico border in recent months.
US Border Patrol apprehensions at the southwestern border reached the highest monthly levels in 20 years in March and April. Apprehensions in May were similar, according to preliminary figures shared with the Reuters news agency.
Despite rolling back some Trump border policies, Biden has left in place a March 2020 health order known as Title 42 that allows the US authorities to rapidly send migrants caught at the border back to Mexico during the pandemic.
In a February 2 executive order, Biden called for US agencies to review the MPP programme and consider whether to terminate it.
The memo formally ending the MPP programme, issued by DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday, said the programme did not “adequately or sustainably enhance border management”, noting that border arrests increased at times while the policy remained in place.
“Moreover, in making my assessment, I share the belief that we can only manage migration in an effective, responsible, and durable manner if we approach the issue comprehensively, looking well beyond our own borders,” Mayorkas wrote.
On February 19, the US allowed the first group to enter into the US, after partnering with international refugee organisations, including the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in order to identify and process the most vulnerable cases.
The goal was to allow asylum seekers to enter the US in small groups and include testing for COVID-19 in Mexico.
Many of those considered priority lived in the makeshift tent camp in Matamoros located across from Brownsville, Texas. The tent’s existence and its conditions became one of the symbols of Trump’s anti-immigration stance.
The policy forced hundreds of others to live in dangerous Mexican border towns controlled by criminal groups.
The US-based rights group Human Rights First has documented at least 1,544 acts of murder, rape, torture and kidnapping against the MPP recipients in Mexico.