American nongovernmental organizations helping migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. walked out of a meeting with Biden administration officials Saturday morning, according to audio obtained by The Monitor.
Several organizations from five points along the southern border, including the Rio Grande Valley, were in attendance at a virtual meeting with Biden administration officials to protest the reimplementation of a border policy that would push asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for their U.S. immigration court hearings, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols.
The administration announced Thursday plans to restart the policy in mid-November, pending Mexico’s cooperation. Saturday’s meeting followed the announcement.
“We can no longer come into these conversations in good conscience when the Biden administration continues to perpetuate illegal and inhumane Trump-era immigration policies such as Title 42, and now MPP,” one of the advocates said in a prepared statement they read before leaving the meeting.
The Biden administration opposed the policy and attempted to end it on the president’s first day in office, but the Supreme Court found it violated federal law in doing so. Under a lower court ruling, the administration was instructed in late August to make a “good faith effort” to restart the program.
“We are, as you know, under a court order that was appealed and we lost going all the way to the Supreme Court. We are under a court order to in ‘good faith’ reimplement the MPP program,” an administration official explained during the meeting.
The co-founders, Felicia Rangel-Samponaro and Victor Cavazos, of the Sidewalk School were present. Rangel-Samponaro held a yellow poster on camera that read “End MPP” and “#DefendBlackMigrants.”
Over the last three years, the Sidewalk School provided assistance to migrants who formed an encampment under the first implementation of President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols in Matamoros. The program sent asylum seekers to Mexico where they were frequent targets of kidnappings, rape and murder.
It also created legal challenges for U.S. attorneys to reach clients living in Mexico to prepare for lengthy cases that stretched for over a year.
The Matamoros encampment shut down and the last residents left on March 6; but a new one formed in Reynosa when thousands of migrants were sent back to Mexico under a pandemic-induced policy known as Title 42.
“Advocates engaged with many of you during the transition and the beginning of the administration,” an advocate read from their statement during the meeting. “We even provided the administration with a road map that included solutions on how to restore the asylum system. You continue to play politics with human lives. Your policies are sending people to their deaths.”
The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, the Department of Justice filed a notice of compliance in the federal court case to share the progress made on their plans to restart MPP.
“DHS has, among other things, engaged in a number of high-level and ongoing virtual and in person discussions with the Government of Mexico; continued to finalize the operational plans that will be required to quickly re-implement MPP; worked closely with the Department of Justice and other interagency partners to ensure that the immigration courts are prepared to hear the cases of those subject to MPP on a timely basis; and issued the contracts required to rebuild the softsided Immigration Hearing Facilities in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas,” the filing stated.
Mexican officials made demands on changes they’d like included in the policy before agreeing to take part in the program.
They include, “an assurance that cases are generally adjudicated within six months of enrollment and that individuals awaiting court hearings in Mexico receive timely and accurate information about hearing dates and times; improved access to counsel; protections against the return of particularly vulnerable populations to Mexico; and better coordination with Mexico concerning the locations and times of day that individuals are returned to Mexico,” the court filing added.
Charlene D’Cruz, an immigration attorney and director of Proyecto Corazon, a project for Lawyers for Good Government, said if the U.S. complies with the request to cut down the time it takes to process a case it could have detrimental effects on the fairness of the process.
Many asylum seekers living in Mexico under MPP were often kept from attending their court hearings after being kidnapped as they made their way through the dark streets of border towns to make their early morning appointments at the international bridges. Advocates believe safety challenges, like these, are too great to overcome.
“There is no good version of MPP. It is not possible to make the inhumane, humane, the unfair, fair or to breathe life into a deadly program,” the prepared statement added. “Representing all five border welcoming regions and the suffering migrants who should be at this table, we now ask all our partners and colleagues to stand in solidarity with those we serve by respectfully walking out of this meeting.”
The meeting ended after about eight minutes.