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US to restart controversial Trump-era 'Remain in Mexico' policy

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Migrants arrive in Villa Comaltitlan, Chiapas state, Mexico, on Oct. 27. (AP photo)

The administration of US President Joe Biden plans to restart the controversial Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy next week.

Under the policy - formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) - migrants seeking asylum in the United States must wait in Mexico for their applications to be processed.

The policy was a cornerstone of Donald Trump's immigration crackdown. The former Republican president used the program to send over 60,000 asylum applicants back to Mexico.

Biden, after taking office, suspended the program, calling it "inhumane," due to the violence migrants faced waiting in Mexico for their court hearings.

According to immigration advocates, MPP exposed migrants to violence and kidnappings in dangerous border cities, where people camped out as they waited for their hearings.

In April, Texas and Missouri officials sued the administration over the suspension of the program, asserting that ending it put a burden on states.

In August, a federal judge ordered the policy's reinstatement, but the US government argued it had to wait for Mexico's agreement before restarting MPP.

Since then, federal officials have been holding negotiations with their Mexican counterparts on how the scheme will resume.

Last Friday, the Mexican government, in a statement, voiced humanitarian concerns about the program, calling the US to commit to expediting cases to limit the time that asylum seekers spend in Mexico and provide them with medical care, Covid vaccines and access to attorneys.

On Thursday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that humanitarian improvements had been made to the policy and that the program will now resume on or around December 6, as per court order.

"DHS will be ready to reimplement MPP once the Government of Mexico makes a final and independent decision to accept the return of individuals enrolled in the program, subject to certain humanitarian improvements," the department said.

Immigration advocates have warned, however, that despite humanitarian improvements, restarting the program will still put asylum seekers at risk.

According to the nonprofit Human Rights First, there were over 1,500 cases of violence, including murder, rape, torture and kidnapping, against migrants forced to return to Mexico under the policy as of February.

The MPP’s reinstatement adds to a confusing mix of immigration policies in place at the US-Mexico border, where a record 1.7 million were arrested in the 2021 fiscal year, which ended in September.

Biden, a Democrat, had suspended the MPP as part of a campaign promise to reverse hard-line immigration policies enacted by his predecessor.

Even as he tried to end the program, his administration, however, continued to implement another Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which allows border authorities to rapidly expel migrants without giving them a chance to claim asylum.

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