Forcing asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico will 'deepen human suffering,' immigrant advocates say

Asylum-seekers Mexico May 30, 2019: Migrants from Central America cross the U.S.-Mexico border at El Paso, Texas / Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico to seek asylum in the United States./ Mike Hardiman/Shutterstock

Catholic immigration advocates on Tuesday decried a Supreme Court decision forcing the Biden administration to reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The policy forces some asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated in the United States.

Tuesday’s ruling will “deepen human suffering and continue to erode U.S. law and values at the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), in an Aug. 24 statement. CLINIC provides training for immigrants’ legal advocates.

After a lower court on Aug. 14 ordered the Biden administration to reinstate the “Remain in Mexico” policy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday evening refused to grant a stay of that ruling in Biden v. Texas, allowing the order to go into effect.

Under the policy, officially titled the Migrant Protection Protocols, non-Mexican migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border must remain in Mexico while their cases are considered in U.S. courts.

Immigrant advocates have said that migrants with legitimate asylum claims could be subjected to long waits and potentially harsh treatment under the policy.

The Trump administration had implemented the protocols in January 2019, first applying them only to asylum-seekers at one border crossing but then expanding them to include entries across the entire U.S.-Mexico border. To remain in the United States, asylum seekers had to prove a fear of persecution or torture in Mexico. Unaccompanied child migrants and those with known physical or mental health problems were exempted from the policy, among others.

The Biden administration had moved to rescind the policy in June, but on Aug. 14 a district court judge in Texas ruled the administration had violated the law in its efforts to repeal the program; the court ordered that the protocols be reinstated.

After the administration appealed the decision in court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals would not overrule the lower court’s decision, and the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to halt the order from going into effect.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, meanwhile, said they would have granted the application for a stay of the district court ruling.

“‘Remain in Mexico’ is an assault on human rights and U.S. asylum law,” Gallagher said on Tuesday. She cited a report by the advocacy group Human Rights First claiming more than 1,500 cases of asylum-seekers being murdered, raped, tortured, and kidnapped while waiting in Mexico for their asylum cases to be decided.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has opposed the policy, calling it “contrary to our laws and morals” in a June 2021 statement.

In a separate legal challenge to the “Remain in Mexico” policy in June, the Supreme Court dismissed the case after the Biden administration had moved to repeal the policy.

The bishops and other Catholic advocates have also drawn attention to the Biden administration’s continuation of the Title 42 policy; the policy denies entry to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, due to the ongoing pandemic.

While the Biden administration has ordered a review of the policy, it has not ended it.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso told CNA in June that he and other religious immigration advocates brought up the policy in a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Right now, no one, no matter how desperate their situation, has a right even to make a claim for asylum at our border,” he told CNA of the current situation. “That has to end.”

Gallagher implored the Biden administration to continue working to end the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

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“Our message to the Biden administration at this critical moment is clear: we will hold you to your promise to restore the soul of America. To do so, you must take immediate action to end Remain in Mexico,” Gallagher said.

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