The Biden administration will allow immigrants who were forced to remain in Mexico for their US asylum cases to be heard, only to be ordered deported back to their home country without being present in court, to get another chance, according to a notice sent to congressional officials on Tuesday.
Nearly 28,000 immigrants were forced under former president Donald Trump into the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) and ordered deported without being present at their last hearing or “in absentia.” In addition to conditions being too dangerous to travel to the US–Mexico border, some immigrants missed their hearings because they were kidnapped by cartels. Others were too sick or denied entry because they were pregnant.
The policy, first implemented by the Trump administration in 2019, led to tens of thousands of asylum-seekers being forced to stay in Mexico as they waited for their day in a US court. Often left with nowhere to go but squalid camps in Mexican border towns, human rights advocates reported cases of the immigrants being kidnapped, raped, and tortured.
So far, the Biden administration has mostly only allowed those with open cases to enter the US, and more than 11,000 people have been processed into the country. On Wednesday, the Biden administration will allow those who were ordered deported “in absentia,” or who had their cases terminated by an immigration judge, to also seek entry into the US.
“As part of our continued effort to restore safe, orderly, and humane processing at the Southwest Border, DHS will expand the pool of MPP-enrolled individuals who are eligible for processing into the United States,” the notice sent to congressional officials stated. “Beginning June 23, 2021, DHS will include MPP enrollees who had their cases terminated or were ordered removed in absentia (i.e., individuals ordered removed while not present at their hearings).”
Those who fit the new expanded categories are urged to stay where they are and register online to get into the US.
In May, BuzzFeed News reported that Homeland Security officials had agreed that those ordered deported in absentia should have their cases reopened, according to government documents.
The Trump administration implemented the controversial program in early 2019 amid a surge of families crossing the border and claiming asylum. In the early days of the policy, which was one in a line of others seeking to restrict asylum, the administration was seeing upward of 100,000 border crossings a month.
Human Rights First has counted at least 1,544 public reports of murder, rape, and other attacks committed against people in MPP. But in only about 2% of cases decided by a judge were immigrants able to get some type of relief like asylum.
In late 2019, BuzzFeed News obtained a draft report from a team of senior DHS officials who examined the Remain in Mexico policy and found that border officials apparently pressured US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials to deny entry to immigrants. The “Red Team” recommendations call on agencies within DHS, including Customs and Border Protection, to provide immigration court hearing notices in multiple languages, improve language access, and ensure that immigrants understand the “questions asked and can make informed decisions.”