Biden administration says ‘Remain in Mexico’ program might restart

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The Biden administration says it plans to restart by mid-November former President Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program for asylum seekers — but only if Mexico agrees to it amid a continued surge in illegal border crossings.

A federal judge in August ordered the administration to restart the program as border apprehensions hit sustained 21-year monthly highs with 1.5 million arrests in fiscal 2021.

The Remain in Mexico policy requires most asylum seekers who reach the southern border — usually after leaving Central America or the Caribbean — to remain in Mexico while US courts review their claims of persecution.

President Biden scrapped the policy this year after campaigning on welcoming asylum seekers. He kept in place a different, unevenly enforced COVID-19 policy that allows for the prompt expulsion of adults who illegally cross the border.

“We have to comply in good faith and take steps to reinstate this court-ordered [program] and we will be doing just that,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday on Air Force Once.

Migrants are lined up and processed by Border Patrol north of the Roma–Ciudad Miguel Aleman International Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande border with Mexico, in Roma, Texas, U.S. October 1, 2021.
Migrants are lined up and processed by Border Patrol north of the Roma-Ciudad Miguel Aleman International Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande border with Mexico, in Roma, Texas, on Oct. 1, 2021.
REUTERS/Jason Garza

“DHS has appealed [the court rulings] and announced that it intends to issue a second memorandum terminating [the program] that intends to address the concerns raised by the courts.”

Jean-Pierre didn’t say what would happen if Mexico refused to participate.

The court rulings forcing the Biden administration to restore the program found that its termination may have been “arbitrary and capricious.” The state governments of Texas and Missouri brought the case.

President Joe Biden
A federal judge ruled the Biden administration can no longer cite COVID-19 to rapidly deport migrant families.
Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Thursday that “DHS is taking necessary steps to comply with the court order, which requires us to reimplement [the program] in good faith.”

But the DHS statement added, “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 [the program].”

Border Patrol agents process migrants under the Roma–Ciudad Miguel Aleman International Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande border with Mexico, in Roma, Texas, U.S. October 1, 2021.
Border Patrol agents process migrants under the Roma-Ciudad Miguel Aleman International Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande border with Mexico, in Roma, Texas, on Oct. 1, 2021.
REUTERS/Jason Garza

Mexico’s foreign ministry said Thursday that it expressed a “number of concerns” to US officials — signaling the resumed program may not be an easy sell.

A senior Mexican official told Reuters “there is no decision at this point” about restarting the program.

Trump secured Mexico’s cooperation in 2019 after repeatedly threatening economic consequences. At one point, he threatened to close the US-Mexico border in response to large caravans of people headed toward the US from Central America.

The Supreme Court in August rejected a Biden administration request to overturn the lower judge’s order that the program be resurrected.

The possible restart of the Remain in Mexico policy comes as the number of Haitian asylum seekers surges at the border, and as a different federal court fight threatens to end the COVID-19 policy that allows the prompt deportation of adults — something Republicans warn could open the floodgates to even more people rushing to the border.

US District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled last month that the Biden administration can no longer cite COVID-19 to rapidly deport migrant family units. The White House defended that deportation rationale as a matter of public health, not immigration policy.

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