A family from Honduras, center, waits to be received at a migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico in April 2018. The couple said they planned to seek asylum in the United States because of increased violence in Central America. / Photo by David Maung

At the start of his term, President Joe Biden tried to kill the Trump-era policy officially known as Migrant Protection Protocols that forces asylum seekers to wait out their court cases in Mexico. But Texas and Missouri sued, claiming that eliminating the policy placed an undue burden on local governments to provide services to immigrants.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Northern Texas ruled that Biden violated the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that establishes what procedures agencies must go through to implement certain policies. And just last week, the Supreme Court decided not to overturn that lower court’s ruling.

Remain in Mexico’s resurrection was met with cheer in conservative circles who view the asylum process as a threat to national security and with dread from people who work along the border and follow migrant issues in Mexico.

The absurdity of forcing vulnerable migrants — who have little savings and no income — to live in dangerous border cities indefinitely was clear to anyone who witnessed it firsthand when it was implemented in San Diego in 2019. In total more than 70,000 people were enrolled in the program.

First, they struggled to find housing in overcrowded migrant shelters. Without a permanent address, immigration courts couldn’t mail out important paperwork. San Diego-based lawyers struggled to do client outreach south of the border, so the vast majority of asylum seekers forced back to Mexico had to represent themselves in immigration court.

Seeing those cases play out was rough. Migrants with zero legal education in their own language had to listen to a judge explain complex immigration law through a translator. Those who represented themselves were given legal forms and told to fill them out in English before being told to go back to court a few months later.

When asylum seekers left their migrant shelters for court dates, they didn’t know if they’d return. So they packed all of their belongings with them. When I reported on this in 2019, advocates told me migrants would often go back to the shelter only to find that their rooms had been taken by someone else — such is the high demand of beds south of the border.

A migrant with little savings, no income and an unstable living situation was expected to do all of this while avoiding street gangs that preyed upon asylum seekers enrolled in the program.

In between the court appearances, more than 1,500 migrants reported being beaten, robbed, kidnapped, raped and murdered.

But at least Texas and Missouri didn’t have to provide any services to them.

I should note that it isn’t exactly clear how quickly Remain in Mexico will start to be implemented again. The judge’s order says the Biden administration must make a “good faith effort” to restart the program. But it doesn’t establish a start-date.

For more info on Remain in Mexico, check out this piece by Union-Tribune reporter Kate Morrissey and listen to this This American Life episode on the policy.

Local Response

Here in San Diego, advocates are already concerned Remain in Mexico’s reinstatement will force more migrants into dangerous living conditions.

Jewish Family Services described Remain in Mexico as a “cruel and inhumane program.”

“Over the last two years, we have seen firsthand the mental and physical toll the policy places on those traumatized by the violence and persecution they have fled from in their home countries,” the organization wrote in a statement.

Pedro Rios, director of American Friends Service Committee, said this will lead to more victims.

This decision makes a really terrible situation even worse because it ensures that migrants who would be allowed to present themselves for asylum reasons are going to have to wait in Mexico, many of whom don’t have a fixed address and they become an easy target for people who want to extort them or take advantage of them,” Rios told ABC10.

The return of Remain in Mexico comes in a particularly difficult situation as Tijuana migrant shelters are already oversaturated. So much so that people are opening their own makeshift shelters in their homes. These shelters are unregulated and not inspected for health and safety measures, Telemundo reported.

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