BY VALERIE GONZALEZ AND DINA ARÉVALO | STAFF WRITERS
The Department of Homeland Security has once again begun enrolling migrants seeking asylum in the United States into the Migrant Protection Protocols, more than a year after the department issued a memorandum recommending the program be terminated.
“DHS has repeatedly sought to terminate MPP. DHS currently is, however, under a court order to reimplement MPP in good faith,” DHS said via a news release Friday.
According to the statement, DHS began enrolling migrants into the so-called “Remain in Mexico” program Wednesday.
“As part of the court-mandated reimplementation of MPP, enrollments in the program began on Wednesday, January 19, in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, with returns to Mexico to take place through the Brownsville port of entry. Returns to Mexico are also taking place in San Diego and El Paso,” the statement reads.
The department further stated that migrants expelled from the U.S. via the Brownsville port of entry may choose to stay in Monterrey, Mexico.
“The Department of State and the Government of Mexico are facilitating secure transportation to Monterrey, shelter, and COVID-19 testing,” the statement reads.
Not long after the MPP program was first initiated in January 2019 under then-President Donald Trump, Matamoros became the site of a large encampment where thousands of migrants — mostly from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — gathered along the banks of the Rio Grande as they await their U.S. immigration court proceedings.
After the camp closed in 2020, many of the migrants began to camp in Reynosa.
Between January 2019 and January 2021, some 68,000 migrants had been enrolled in the program and expelled from the country as a result.
On June 1 of last year, however, DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, under President Joe Biden, issued a memo stating that MPP should be terminated.
But in August 2021, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the federal government to reinstate the program. Texas prevailed when a federal judge granted an injunction requiring DHS to continue with the program in good faith.
Last month, Mexico announced it would again begin accepting migrants expelled from the U.S. due to MPP. With the news, DHS began making plans to comply with the federal court order and restart the program.
However, Mexico expressed several humanitarian concerns regarding the program — concerns it wanted the U.S. to address before cooperating with any reimplementation plans.
“Mexico has underlined the need to improve conditions for migrants and asylum seekers, so that they have better legal advice in their migratory processes, and that they must be carried out in the most expeditious way possible,” Mexican officials said in a Nov. 26, 2021 statement.
“Mexico has communicated to the United States that migrants must have access to medical care and vaccination against covid-19, in order to protect their right to health and prevent the spread of covid-19 in communities on both sides of the border,” the statement further reads.
Mexican officials also expressed concerns over migrants who qualify for exceptions to MPP nonetheless being expelled across the border, including unaccompanied minors, pregnant people, members of the LGBTQ community, and those with physical or mental disabilities.
Though the Biden administration has said it will continue to try to dismantle MPP, DHS said it will fully comply with the court order.
“Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has repeatedly stated that MPP has endemic flaws, imposed unjustifiable human costs, pulled resources and personnel away from other priority efforts, and failed to address the root causes of irregular migration,” DHS said in a statement last month.
“DHS continues to fight in the courts, including in a pending challenge before the Supreme Court. In the interim, DHS is committed to abiding by the court-mandated reimplementation of MPP in the most humane way possible,” DHS officials said in Friday’s statement.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the dates and locations of migrant encampments.