The battle over impeachment takes up most of the nation’s attention, but what’s happening at the southern border? Curbing illegal immigration has been one of the administration’s primary objectives since Donald Trump took office in 2017. A problematic element in that equation is “catch and release” policies.
While the president has yet to finish his build-a-wall project, he has imposed policies to circumvent the flawed immigration system. One such program is the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), otherwise known as the Remain in Mexico policy. The new measure has helped decrease the flow of migrants over the border, but there are some troubling side effects.
What Is MPP?
The MPP has been imposed in various ports of entry across the southern border. It requires the majority of individuals seeking asylum to stay in Mexico after they are processed by U.S. immigration officials, where they await their court hearings. The administration recently expanded the policy to Eagle Pass, TX, making it the sixth port where the policy is in effect.
Migrants arriving at such ports of entry appear at a temporary immigration court before they are returned to Mexico. When it is their turn for their cases to be adjudicated, they see a judge either in a U.S. border town or by video conference. In a statement, DHS declared that:
“MPP has been a crucial element of DHS’s success in addressing the ongoing crisis, securing the border, and ending catch and release. Since the peak of the crisis in May 2019, the number of aliens encountered at and between the ports of entry has decreased by 64% overall — and approximately 80% for Central American families.”
This policy is designed to bypass the “catch and release” procedures utilized by previous presidential administrations. Before the MPP, migrants waited in the United States for their court dates. A significant percentage of these individuals did not show up, covertly settling in the country in violation of immigration laws.
Progress on Border Control
DHS claims that under the new program, thousands of migrants have given up on their asylum claims, deciding to return to their home countries. So far, more than 55,000 immigrants have returned to Mexico under the policy, and authorities have adjudicated nearly 13,000 cases since Oct. 21.
According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), about 20,000 migrants remain in Mexico. This means that “a significant proportion of the 55000+ MPP returnees have chosen to abandon their claims.”
The International Organization of Migration, a group supported by the U.S. and other governments, provides services to migrants across the globe. It provides free passage for migrants who wish to abandon their claims and return to their home country. The organization says about 900 have used its services so far.
Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan called MPP a “game changer” and told Fox News, “We’re now sending the message that, if you’re coming here as an economic migrant, you’re not going to be allowed into the United States.” He added, “That’s driving a lot of people to return.”
However, let’s consider other ramifications of the Remain in Mexico program.
Problems With the Policy
While the policy has helped DHS get a handle on illegal immigration, migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border experience some adverse effects. Reuters reported that many of these individuals – including children – reside in cities with high crime. They also live in “crowded shelters and tents or on the streets.” Since it takes months to get an asylum hearing, these conditions could become an issue.
Shelter problems are not the worst of it; health issues are a factor, too. People in the program are given a consultation with medical personnel. However, with flu season around the corner, some suffer from various illnesses. Medical professionals serving the camps told Reuters that they have dealt with “cases of chicken pox, scabies, respiratory infections, skin rashes, eye infections and gastrointestinal issues among children and adults.”
American doctors and nurses volunteering with the Refugee Health Alliance in Tijuana provide flu shots for some shelters, but, according to coordinator Phil Canete, this is easier said than done. He asserted that vaccines must be stored in certain conditions, and Mexico’s government requires a doctor licensed in Mexico to supervise the operations.
The U.S. government addressed these health concerns with guidance documents mandating that migrants suffering from known physical or mental health problems should not be placed under the program. But this has not helped those who become sick after returning to Mexico.
According to the Texas Tribune, the lack of legal representation is also an issue. “Immigration attorneys and civil and immigrant rights groups have criticized the program, arguing that the policy makes it nearly impossible for attorneys to provide adequate representation to their clients.”
Migrants involved in the program face violent attacks in Mexico, where it seems commonplace for criminals to prey on immigrants. In Ciudad Juárez, people have reported robberies, extortion, and rapes.
So far, the Remain in Mexico program has provided U.S. immigration authorities space and time to deal with the crush of asylum seekers at the border in an orderly process. But DHS must act to address more fully the policy’s unintended negative consequences for migrants.