The Biden administration ‘reluctantly’ reactivated the controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy on December 6, despite efforts taken by United States President Joe Biden to permanently end it on his first day in office, NPR reports. The policy, which was initially implemented under the Trump administration in 2019, targets single men, women, and family units, but will not affect unaccompanied minors.
Under former U.S. President Donald Trump, the program sent more than 70,000 asylum seekers apprehended in California and Texas to wait in border camps in Northern Mexico while their cases were processed in the United States, prior to the program’s suspension by the Biden administration. Following a successful attempt by Missouri and Texas to challenge the suspension in court, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ordered the reinstatement of the policy earlier this year.
While the White House has appealed the decision, Press Secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the administration “believe[s] in following the law,” and has begun sending small groups of migrants to camps at select Texas entry points, reports BBC News.
The Guardian reports that Mexico, historically an outspoken critic of the program, agreed to its reinstatement following commitments by U.S. officials to improve conditions in migrant camps. The U.S. government, responding to concerns by Mexican officials, also agreed to increase migrants’ access to legal representation, resolve asylum claims within six months, protect “vulnerable groups” targeted by violence, and donate 2.1 million more vaccine doses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
While activists welcome the government’s commitment to improving conditions within the camps, many still believe that returning migrants to Mexico is an improper solution that mimics the dangerous conditions the asylees are fleeing from.
Human rights groups have sharply criticized the policy reinstatement, with the ACLU releasing a statement describing the “Remain in Mexico” policy as an “illegal and cruel policy” that subjects migrants to “torture, rape, and death” in border camps.
Violence is commonplace within the camps and likely understated due to victims’ fears of retribution. The Wall Street Journal reports that in the first year that the “Remain in Mexico” policy was active there were 636 reported cases of kidnapping, rape, torture, and other related crimes in U.S.-funded camps. One hundred thirty-eight of these cases involved kidnapped children, whose families are often extorted by gangs demanding ransom in exchange for their safe return.
Legal groups are among those criticizing the policy’s reimplementation, noting the selectivity of asylum claims granted by judges handling these cases. The New York Times reports that of the 25,000 asylum applications filed by migrants affected by “Remain in Mexico” during the Trump administration, only 1.6 percent of claims were granted. Activists fear that this number will diminish even further, as several top U.S. legal aid groups have said they can no longer take cases in which migrants are based in Mexico.
Trump launched the “Remain in Mexico” policy in an attempt to deter illegal border crossings amid rising migration rates, which left American border towns unable to handle the staggering number of migrants. Mexico had reluctantly agreed to the policy following threats by Trump to dramatically raise tariffs on Mexican goods, a move that was denounced by Democrats.