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Biden administration says it’s ready to restore ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy along border next month

A court ordered the administration to resume the Trump-era policy that sends asylum seekers to Mexico to await U.S. court hearings.

TEXAS, USA — The Biden administration is prepared to reimplement the Trump-era border policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols in mid-November if the Mexican government agrees to accept the return of asylum seekers to its territory, administration officials said Thursday.

In August, a U.S. District Court in Texas ordered the Biden administration to restart MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” faulting the White House for ending the program improperly. The Supreme Court upheld the decision, forcing Biden officials to restore a policy the president has deplored as inhumane.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement late Thursday it is “taking necessary steps to comply with the court order, which requires us to reimplement MPP in good faith.”

MPP cannot resume without Mexico’s consent, as the court acknowledged in its ruling, and administration officials said they are taking steps to address the concerns of the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador by setting up better access to legal counsel for asylum seekers and exemptions for vulnerable migrants.

“Mexico is a sovereign nation that must make an independent decision to accept the return of individuals without status in Mexico as part of any reimplementation of MPP,” the DHS statement said. “Discussions with the Government of Mexico concerning when and how MPP will be reimplemented are ongoing.”

The Trump administration used MPP to return more than 60,000 asylum seekers across the border to Mexico, requiring them to wait outside U.S. territory as their claims were processed in U.S. courts. The policy was conceived by Trump officials as a way to prevent border-crossers from being released into the United States — and avoiding deportation — by making asylum claims.

Trump used the threat of tariffs to force Mexico to accept a major expansion of MPP in 2019 amid a surge of Central American families seeking protection. Border crossings fell sharply in the months that followed, but immigrant advocates denounced the policy, documenting hundreds of rapes, kidnappings and other abuses suffered by migrants marooned in dangerous Mexican border cities.

Biden halted MPP soon after taking office, and when border crossings skyrocketed this spring, Biden was asked if he made a mistake by moving too quickly to end MPP and other Trump-era controls.

“Rolling back the policies of ‘Remain in Mexico,’ sitting on the edge of the Rio Grande in a muddy circumstance with not enough to eat and — I make no apologies for that,” the president told reporters in March. “I make no apologies for ending programs that did not exist before Trump became President, that have an incredibly negative impact on the law, international law, as well as on human dignity.”

The GOP-run states of Texas and Missouri filed suit against the administration in the Northern District of Texas, saying the abrupt repeal of MPP led to a harmful surge of illegal immigration. The number of migrants taken into custody along the Mexico border this year is at the highest level in at least two decades.

MPP fell out of use by the Trump administration in March 2020 as the coronavirus spread and officials began using an emergency provision of the public health code known as Title 42 to rapidly return border crossers without offering them a chance to request asylum.

The Biden administration has continued to use Title 42, while exempting unaccompanied minors, expelling more than 700,000 since January, the latest data show.

Biden officials told reporters Title 42 will remain the primary enforcement mechanism for illegal border crossings, regardless of whether Mexico allows for the reimplementation of MPP.

“We will continue to use Title 42 for all of the people who are amenable to it and who we can expel to Mexico or to other countries,” said one administration official who spoke to reporters on the condition that the person could not be identified.

Biden’s version of MPP would seek to complete asylum case processing within six months, the officials said, using temporary courts in tent facilities set up at the same border crossings in Brownsville and Laredo used by the Trump administration. Their planned restart of the program will prioritize “making sure individuals are treated humanely,” one official said.

The officials said the administration is preparing a new memo to formally end MPP but would not be able to move forward until the court injunction is lifted.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday it will continue talks with the Biden administration on migration, offering no indication whether it has agreed to restart MPP.